Entangled Education: Foreign and Local Schools in Ottoman Syria and Mandate Lebanon (19–20th Centuries), edited by Julia Hauser, Christine B. Lindner, and Esther Möller

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies
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  • 1 Boston College

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Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag GmbH, 2016. Pp. 291. Hb, €68.

In 1831, the Society of Jesus returned to the Levant, having revived missions dedicated to Eastern Christians but especially Maronite Catholics. In the following year, Superior General Jan Roothaan distributed an updated version of the Ratio studiorum for the restored Society, affirming the authority of the original document. From this template for Jesuit education, in 1843 Jesuits missionaries established the Collège-Séminaire de Ghazīr in a predominantly Maronite area of the Levantine coast. Thus, the Jesuit apostolate of education became the major concern for the Mission of Mount Lebanon (later consolidated into the Mission of Syria and ultimately elevated the Province of the Near East, as it is known today). As the faculty transferred from Ghazīr to Beirut and created Université Saint-Joseph (usj) in 1875, the Society in the Levant expanded their educational model in order to continue training clergy and encompass the education of Catholic laity.

This latter stage of Jesuit education in the region coincides with the historical narratives of this volume, but the co-editors intend to “challenge the traditional histories of education in the Ottoman Empire that described education as a reflection of an ethnically and a communally segregated society and culture” (12). Emerging out of an international workshop hosted at the Orient-Institut Beirut in April 2012, the book purports to examine education in Ottoman Syria and Mandate Lebanon, yet these thirteen inquiries rarely venture beyond the case of Beirut. This concentration on Beirut, however, helps illustrate the complexities of Lebanese identity that converge within the city’s limits and to link it with these typically religious educational endeavors (an exception is the French Mission Laïque). Opening with three examples of women who exemplify the “transnational trajectories” possible, the introduction lucidly presents a retrospective of the topic and an ambitious agenda that aims to account for its contemporary relevance. Accordingly, they survey historiographical trends, outline the practical difficulties for the scholar (e.g., linguistic demands and the geographically dispersed documentary evidence), and also offer a framework for approaching the topic.

The volume is organized according to four critical approaches. The first set of essays examines the spatial dimension of education, as the contributors bring greater attention to how education re-shaped Beirut through architecture and urban planning. As Maria Bashshur Abunnasr explains, the prominence of the Syrian Protestant College (later American University Beirut) with its New England influence became a geographic marker for a distinctive identity within the city’s topography. Next, Michael Davie argues that the location of these educational sites themselves convey a form of symbolic domination. Though it is illustrated primarily through the example of Rās Beirut, the neighborhood of the Syrian Protestant College, he claims that it is also evident with respect to the Jesuit-run usj where its chapel served as the focal point of the campus. The following chapter by May Davie looks at the hybrid composition of these spaces (take, for example, a brief mention of the quartier-jardin at usj and its composite character) that in her account is a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity. The turn to gender in the next section provides an opportunity to understand how formal education of girls developed as a topic in late nineteenth-century Beirut both within confessional communities and more broadly within Levantine society. Like the first section, there is little attention to the Society yet further studies could explore the affiliation of the Jesuits with the Filles de la Charité, a Catholic congregation of women religious dedicated to female education.

The two chapters by Peter Falk and Chantal Verdeil provide substantive introductions to the ways that the Society adapted its educational paradigms to the Levantine context. Whereas the first traces the shift in the Society’s educational agenda in order to highlights its complicity with the French colonial enterprise—even before the fall of the Ottoman Empire—the latter draws on the background of Jesuit education and its contribution to Beirut society. Falk’s emphasis on the linguistic aspect of Jesuit instruction at usj enables a pathway to investigate how “a syncretistic national religious allegiance” (166) was constructed for its subjects with an idealized vision of France and an Orientalist attitude towards Arabic, and implicitly Islam. According to Falk, the French language was key to this avowedly modernistic worldview and two local Jesuits, George Angélil, S.J. (Melkite) and Louis Cheikho, S.J. (Chaldean), exemplify this adoption of French identity. Falk’s chapter never references the Ratio studiorum, a curious omission in light of Chantal Verdeil’s contribution that foregrounds this template of Jesuit education in order to interpret how Jesuits traditionally employed theater as the edifying means towards their religious and pedagogical ends. Covering the same period—the founding of usj to the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Ottoman Empire in 1914—Verdeil examines critically the various types of theatrical performances within the context of the overall curriculum, against the traditional backdrop, and in relation to larger frameworks, socio-political and theological. For example, Verdeil analyzes the privileged status of the martyr in these texts, generally male youths with the exception of Jeanne d’Arc, who embodies the heroic virtues for the audience. Here, we can recognize the resonance with early modern instances of drama in Jesuit pedagogy. While theater affords this traditional link, it also illustrates how Jesuits interfaced with a broader public. Whereas the Ratio studiorum prioritizes instruction in the classical languages of ancient Greek and Latin, Verdeil notes, the variety of theatrical performances were often carried out in French or Arabic. Moreover, the texts themselves are polyglot, including those mentioned above as well as Italian, Syriac, Coptic, and Greek in its modern form. In contrast to the monoculture of Jesuit education that Falk presents, Verdeil concludes plurilinguisme was one of the underlying pedagogical aims of Jesuit education in Beirut.

Surely, these two chapters by Falk and Verdeil will attract the immediate interest to those working in Jesuit studies. There are others that address various aspects of the Society’s apostolate of education in Beirut and beyond, such as Esther Möller’s description of alumni association in the 1930s and 1940s schools as international networks. However, as the co-editors impress upon their readers, the case of Beirut presents a distinct challenge. As the transnational trajectories promise at the outset and some of the historical studies give credence, the city is for some a site of cross-cultural and often interreligious encounter. As the co-editors assert it was a site of multilateral exchange, and the flow of ideas was not strictly from the imperial center to the colonial periphery. The authors do not always fulfill this aim but it can be instructive for an example like the Kurdish Jesuit Cheikho, whose work in philology at the Oriental Faculty assisted in transforming the study and instruction of Arabic in Europe. Although it is suggested that the chapters may be read as individual case studies, the achievement of this volume may be in its whole as a comparative and inter-cultural approach to the study of education in a given context. In this case, a cosmopolitan and religiously pluralistic milieu fosters Islamic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Protestant missionary, laïque, and Jesuit ventures into education that subsequently cultivates the emergence of multiple modernities that intersect and occupy the same civic space. As a polyvocal historical account of Beirut and the development of modern education, this volume indicates that further studies about the adaptation of Jesuit education to this context must appreciate its place within a competitive field, and those agents who navigated its permeable boundaries.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00404008-13

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