Leadership legitimacy in the Middle East: Imam Musa Sadr's identity, charisma and political legitimation in Lebanon, 1960-1975

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Richard Schwartz


Iran, Iraq, Sadr, Musa

Subject Categories

Political Science | Religion


This study examines leadership legitimation in the Middle East. The Middle East, which embodies a unique process of the legitimation of leadership still provides the opportunities, even to this day, for charismatic leaders to acquire traditional political legitimacy. This dissertation analyzes the transitional process of Imam Musa Sadr's personality and leadership development, specifically highlighted in his early severe identity crisis in Iran and Iraq and his later acquisition of charismatic authority and its legitimation in Lebanon. It is built on two intersecting approaches. This new framework is made of first, the psychology of Erik Erikson's personality development on the micro level. It maps the corresponding inner or internal personal forces of Imam Sadr's early life. This approach explicates the personal conflicts of Imam Sadr's early life, highlighting his identity crisis that required a public arena to actualize its resolution. The Lebanese arena provided Imam Sadr the agency that allowed him the opportunity to manage a resolution for his protracted identity crisis. At the same time he emerged to establish a charismatic covenant with his beloved followers.

To complement Erikson's psychology is the second approach based on the sociology of Max Weber's Charismatic authority on the macro-level. It provides an analysis of the external forces such as "moments of distress" that constitute the ideal conditions of the emergence of his charismatic leadership and its legitimation. This highlights the unique attributes of the distressful conditions of his community as they intersected with his extraordinary leadership qualities, thus functioning as an attraction for his followers. His Shia followers provided him the recognition of his charismatic leadership authority, thus allowing him to emerge, negotiate, and acquire traditional political legitimacy while transforming their political culture in Lebanon.


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