Elizabeth-Suzanne Kassab: I had no idea of contemporary Arabic thought till graduation

Mohammed Eissa in Abu Dhabi , Sunday 28 Apr 2013

The author of Contemporary Arabic Thought wrote her book in order to bring to the Arab youth, often more aware of Western civilisation than their own, the intellectual efforts of decades in Arabic thinking

Elizabeth-Suzanne Kassab
Elizabeth-Suzanne Kassab

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs 24 to 29 April, hosted Lebanese writer Elizabeth-Suzanne Kassab, author of Al Fikr al 'arabi al Mu'aser (Arabic Contemporary Thought: A study in comparative cultural criticism), which won the Sheikh Zayed Contribution to the Development of Nations book award, ahead of the award ceremony Sunday to discuss her book.

The writer said that she focuses in her work on three perspectives: first, self-critical transformations of Arabic thought; second, understanding what she calls "the cultural misery of Arab critical thinkers"; third, to break the isolation imposed on Arabic discussions of culture.

Elizabeth-Suzanne Kassab tackles tangled facts in her book related to the Enlightenment and the age of Renaissance. She also focuses on presenting the Arabic critical thought that emerged after the defeat of the Six Days War in 1967, presenting the efforts of Arab thinkers to interrogate metaphysical and religious thought, ideology and the historicism of Arabic thought, and traditional versions of Islam and the monopoly exercised over Islam by certain currents.

Kassab told Ahram Online that she wrote the book motivated by her lack of knowledge of contemporary Arabic thought, though she received her higher education in Lebanese schools and European and American universities — a lacuna she describes as an "educational scandal."

“My book is an attempt to shed light on contemporary Arabic thought and to assert the need to spread awareness of it by bringing together the intellectual and critical efforts of the last four decades, to break our isolation, which was cause by our obsession with modernity and liberation,” Kassab said.

The book tries to answer questions like: Why did the renaissance fail in the Arab world? And: To what extent have Arab contemporary thinkers dealt with cultural crises as political matters? The author focused on works written after 1967.

“It’s important to practice self-criticism towards our cultural, political and economic defeats, to break the limits of our ideology,” Kassab explains.

The obsession with Western civilisation became very dominant among the Arab youth, who often have no idea about figures of Arabic contemporary thought. This is what Kassab is trying to change.

Elizabeth-Suzanne Kassab studied business administration and philosophy at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and continued her graduate studies in philosophy at Fribourg University in Switzerland. She spent three years as a post-doctorate fellow at the University of Bielefeld in Germany. She returned to Beirut in 1991 and taught for many years at the philosophy department in AUB, and later at Balamand University. In 1999, she was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to work on her research project at the New School University in New York. After, she was visiting scholar at Columbia University for several years and a visiting associate professor at the Yale Centre for International and Area Studies in 2006-07. Since 2012, Kassab is a Mellon visiting professor at the Cogut Centre for the Humanities at Brown University in Rhode Island, USA.

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