Jurji Zaidan and the Foundations of Arab Nationalism.
Jurji Zaidan [1861-1914], the prolific Cairene writer and publisher of the journal Al-Hilal, is perhaps best remembered today for his twenty-one popular historical novels, which through initial serialization in magazines, periodic reprints in Arabic, and subsequent translations into several languages in the century since his passing have made Arab history entertaining and accessible to generations of readers throughout the Arab world and beyond it. In contrast, Zaidan's pioneering contributions to the Arab Nahda (Awakening) and to the development of a secular pan-Arab national identity, via his substantial body of scholarly writing, have been overlooked in both the Anglo-European and Arabic historiography of Arab nationalism.
This fascinating study by Thomas Philipp, published in cooperation with the Zaidan Foundation, begins to address this gap by bringing a variety of scholarly writings of Zaidan together with a multichapter introductory essay that illuminates Zaidan's intellectual contribution to the "Arab Awakening" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and explores the ways in which he promoted Arabism through his secular evolutionary analyses of Arab history, language, and culture.
The book is divided into three distinct yet complementary sections. The first part, which constitutes the first third of the text, features Philipp's compelling introductory essay that is itself divided into seven chapters. Following an essential short biography that outlines Zaidan's life and career, Philipp draws closely from the primary selections featured in the second part to analyze Zaidan's secular, Darwinian approach to Arab and Islamic history and the evolution of the Arabic language. Skillfully integrating theory to show how this radical approach enabled Zaidan to unhook Arab history from Islamic history and thereby create the basis for a secular Arab identity, Philipp convincingly locates Zaidan's interpretations at the center of the later phases of the Nahda movement and subtly considers how AI-Hilal serves as an example of the critical role of print capitalism in the development of nationalism.
Part 2, which comprises almost all of the remaining two thirds of the book, offers an anthology of articles and excerpts from Zaidan's scholarly works relevant to Philipp's essay that were translated for this volume by Hilary Kilpatrick and Paul Starkey. Topics selected include religion and science; Arabic language; and Arab history, society, and nationalism. The writings are sequentially ordered to correspond with their analyses in part 1, which enhances the utility of both sections. The third and final section offers a comprehensive bibliography on Zaidan, which includes his works in Arabic and the many languages into which they have been translated, as well as works about Zaidan himself.
Scholars of modern Middle Eastern history, Middle Eastern and Arab nationalism, and the Nahda in particular will find this book to be an original, useful, and entertaining study of the life and works of a heretofore relatively obscure Ottoman intellectual and pan-Arab thinker. Selections would be suitable as supplementary reading for undergraduates, and the book would be a fine addition as required reading in graduate seminars.
David N. Yaghoubian
California State University, San Bernardino
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|Author:||Yaghoubian, David N.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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