Excerpt from the Preface by Thomas Philipp
“To revisit, after almost four decades, one’s earliest attempts at scholarly work and research is a unique opportunity. The result is, of course, a mixed one. Some insights still seem to stand, and parts of those have been included in this essay. Scholarship on the Middle East, however, has developed substantially, as has our knowledge. The theory of nationalism has received new impulses from new questions and innovative research. This has certainly made it possible to analyze Zaidan’s nationalist thought in greater depth. Re-reading my own earlier study and Jurji Zaidan’s work, I have realized that nationalism per se was not as central to his work as I had thought earlier. However, I found that the disengagement of Arab history from Islamic history by using evolutionary theory for a secular analysis was the innovative achievement of Zaidan’s work. Applying such secular analysis not only to the history but also to the language and culture of the Arab people led then almost by necessity to the reconstruction of an Arab cultural history, Arab identity and to the idea of Arabism.
The shift from an Islamic history, in which the Arabs play a certain role in the manifestation of the divine will, to an Arab history, in which Islam constitutes one of several Arab civilizational phases, occurring before and after Islam, is the focus of this volume. Since nothing of J. Zaidan’s scholarly work has – with one exception – ever been translated into a Western language, it was decided early on to include translations of relevant essays or passages of Zaidan’s writings in order to familiarize the reader with Zaidan’s own texts and to illustrate the arguments and interpretations made in the essay. The translations were chosen with care as representative of Zaidan’s thought on specific subjects.
This is not to say that the texts are representative of all of Zaidan’s thought. They only illuminate the topic of history and language in the context I spoke of above. In fact a great number of topics has not been included in this essay, such as Zaidan’s sociological thought, his political ideas, his support of the emancipation of women, and his enormous role in the development of modern Arabic literature, especially the development of the Arabic novel. Their omission does not imply that they are not important but only that there are physical limits to a book. The hope for this study is that it will further the interest in Zaidan’s work and will lead to more studies on a whole range of other topics.”