The Early Modern Christian Cultural and Literary Heritage in the Eyes of Nahḍa Scholars – a workshop in Oxford, June 2019


Feras Krimsti, University of Oxford (


26-27 June 2019 (one and a half days)


Balliol College, Oxford


When the two hundredth anniversary of Jirmānūs Farḥāt’s death was celebrated in Aleppo in May 1932, a new statue of the Maronite Bishop was erected and ceremonial speeches were given. In these speeches, Farḥāt and his contemporaries were lauded as “pioneers” of the Nahḍa who flourished in dark times of intellectual stagnation. This powerful image of the past contrasts with the self-understanding of Nahḍa thinkers, who worked towards religious reform and cultural and political change. While scholars tend to approach the Nahḍa by looking forward – in line with its own teleology of progress –, looking back allows for tracing how Nahḍa thinkers imagined and engaged with the early modern cultural and literary heritage that preceded them.

This heritage had an important impact on the thought of Nahḍa scholars. How did they conceptualize the early modern past? How did intellectuals like Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq and Buṭrus al-Bustānī appropriate the writings of Christian thinkers like Farḥāt? What did they dwell on and what did they leave out, when working with the philological and cultural traces of the past that surrounded them?

During the nineteenth century, significant contributions were made to the preservation and processing of this philological heritage. Journals were founded, in which texts were edited and discussed, such as Al-Mashriq. Most churches had their own print journals. Indices were made and catalogues created (e.g. Louis Cheikho’s Kitāb al-Makhṭūṭāt). But how did such works come into being? Which manuscripts were selected and how was their language examined? Which ones were disregarded? What role did missionaries and Westerners play in this process? What role did intercommunal conflict play? More concretely, how was a Christian Arabic heritage created?

Christian intellectuals, priests, monks, and scholars like Louis Cheikho, Paul Sbath, Būlus Qarʾalī, Qusṭanṭīn al-Bāshā, Asad Rustom, Yaʿqūb Sarkīs, among others, have scarcely received scholarly attention. Yet their work has had a decisive impact on how we approach the literary, cultural, and philological production of the early modern period up to the present day. Engaging with the contributions of the above mentioned individuals opens up the possibility for a critical study of the instrumenta studiorum in the field of early modern Arabic Christian (and Muslim) intellectual history. The criteria with which these intellectuals selected what was to be edited, discussed, and published, are important for understanding which parts of the heritage were preserved and what was obliterated, for example through the judgement of preference for certain poems over others, the ‘improvement’ of dialectal elements into classical Arabic, and the infusion of historical texts with a highly political, and often sectarian, agenda.

Additionally, the workshop will explore the various local, regional, and imperial contexts of cultural production. Modern Christian intellectuals thought in the framework of “nation states” and thus had little understanding of the context of empire. How did they come to grips with the many different ways in which early modern Christians navigated different worlds? How did they perceive of Ottoman rule?

As part of an ERC-funded project on Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World, a workshop is being held in Oxford in June 2019 for the purpose of addressing a wide range of questions related to the early modern Christian cultural and literary heritage as perceived by Nahḍa scholars and intellectuals.

The full programme is now available here:

Workshop Schedule

Please direct any questions to

Feras Krimsti (

Research Associate in the Project “Stories of Survival:  Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World”

Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College

University of Oxford

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