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Contemporary Arab Thought

Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective

Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Contemporary Arab Thought
    Book Description:

    During the second half of the twentieth century, the Arab intellectual and political scene polarized between a search for totalizing doctrines-nationalist, Marxist, and religious-and radical critique. Arab thinkers were reacting to the disenchanting experience of postindependence Arab states, as well as to authoritarianism, intolerance, and failed development. They were also responding to successive defeats by Israel, humiliation, and injustice. The first book to take stock of these critical responses, this volume illuminates the relationship between cultural and political critique in the work of major Arab thinkers, and it connects Arab debates on cultural malaise, identity, and authenticity to the postcolonial issues of Latin America and Africa, revealing the shared struggles of different regions and various Arab concerns.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51617-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction: Cultural Malaise and Cultural Identity in Twentieth-Century Western, Postcolonial, and Arab Debates
    (pp. 1-16)

    Arab thinkers, artists, and activists have been engaged for almost two centuries now in intensive debates about cultural identity, cultural decline, and cultural renewal. Questions of the cultural self have dominated conferences, publications, and political gatherings. From one turn of the century to the other, questions of cultural anguish have persisted: How are we to defi ne ourselves? Are we Arabs or Muslims in the first place? What does Arabhood mean? How is Islam to be understood? Why have we lagged behind while others in the world have progressed? How can we change and modernize without becoming westernized and losing...

  5. One The First Modern Arab Cultural Renaissance, or Nahda From the Mid–Nineteenth Century to the Mid–Twentieth Century
    (pp. 17-47)

    The modern Arab debates on culture date back roughly to the mid–nineteenth century, a time when most Arab lands had been under Ottoman rule for three hundred years, since the sixteenth century. The waning Ottoman Empire had started to lose control over some of its territories to breakaway nationalist movements: Greece in the early 1820s and the Balkans in the 1870s. It had suffered military defeats at the hands of one of its major rivals, Russia, in consecutive battles in 1806–1812, 1828–1829, 1853–1856, and 1877–1878. It was also facing growing financial and economic difficulties. For...

  6. Two Critique After the 1967 Defeat
    (pp. 48-115)

    Saadallah Wannous’s 1967–1968 play Haflat Samar min Ajl Khamseh Huzairan (An Entertainment Evening for June 5) is about the opening night of a play called Safir al-Arwah (The Whistle of the Souls) that never actually gets started.¹ The opening takes place in a state theater in the aftermath of the June 1967 war. Official personalities as well as common people and refugees are invited. They have settled down in their seats waiting for the play to start. Both the stage and the spectator hall are lit, the curtain is up, and a blackboard on the stage reads: “At exactly...

  7. Three Marxist, Epistemological, and Psychological Readings of Major Conferences on Cultural Decline, Renewal, and Authenticity
    (pp. 116-172)

    The cultural concerns that preoccupied the prominent thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century were the subject of major pan–Arab conferences of this period. The three most important conferences were the Cairo conference of 1971, “Al-Asala wa al-Tajdid fi al-Thaqafa al-ʿArabiyya al-Muʿassira” (Authenticity and Renewal in Contemporary Arab Culture); the Kuwait conference of 1974, “Azamat al-Tatawwural-Hadari fi al-Watan al-ʿArabi” (Th e Crisis of Civilizational Development in the Arab Homeland); and the Cairo conference of 1984, “Al-Turath wa Tahaddiyyat al-ʿAsr fi al-Watan al-ʿArabi” (Heritage and the Challenges of the Age in the Arab Homeland: Authenticity and Contemporaneity). Clearly,...

  8. Four Critique in Islamic Theology
    (pp. 173-219)

    Already during the Nahda, as we have seen so far, Islamic theology was a pivotal domain of reform and modernization under the leadership of clerics such as Muhammad Abduh, Ali Abdel Raziq, and Muhammad Ahmad Khalafallah. Their ideas were met with conservatism and traditionalism by the official religious establishment headed by al-Azhar as well as by leading Islamists such as Hassan al-Banna, the found er of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sayyid Qutb, its theoretician. But the calls for theological critique and modernization continued, for instance in the ideas of Muhammad Nuwaihi. Nuwaihi mentioned four ways in which religions in general...

  9. Five Secular Critique
    (pp. 220-281)

    Since the time of the Nahda, secular critique has been a persistent component of Arab cultural critique. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was considered a prerequisite for modernization: on the political level, it meant the separation of religion from politics and the state; and on the intellectual level, it stipulated the replacement of a religious mode of thinking with a scientific one.¹ The issue took on a renewed prominence in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat. Some thinkers, such as Sadeq Jalal al-Azm, blamed the lingering religious-metaphysical mode of thinking for the way things were handled before,...

  10. Six Breaking the Postcolonial Solitude: Arab Motifs in Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 282-346)

    Cultural malaise and cultural critique as well as civilizational decline, collapse, and renewal were also dominant issues in recent European history, especially around the turn of the twentieth century. They gave rise to a whole range of intellectual, artistic, and political movements and to a set of new disciplines related to culture, such as the philosophy of culture (Kulturphilosophie), the science of culture (Kulturwissenschaft), the history of culture (Kulturgeschichte), and the sociology of culture (Kultursoziologie). As the names of these disciplines indicate, much of these intellectual and political reactions took place in Germany due to its special history in Europe....

  11. Conclusion: The New Nahda Impulses, Reclaiming the Right to Freedom and Life
    (pp. 347-364)

    In the first half of 2006 and in early 2007, the Arab daily al-Hayat ran a series of interviews with some twenty four Arab thinkers about their societies’ current intellectual and cultural state.¹ It invited them to respond to the following questions: What place does the Arab region have on the world scene today? What are the causes of its present predicament? To what extent have Arab societies, rather than Arab regimes, been the obstacle to change? What shapes Arab mentalities nowadays? What role and responsibility have intellectuals had and what role can they have today in developing Arab societies...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 365-430)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 431-472)
  14. Index
    (pp. 473-496)