The Maronite Church, France, and the Construction of the State of Greater Lebanon in 1920

Dr Dennis Walker

Date: Friday 22 Oct, 5.00-6.30pm

Venue: Seminar Room, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, 8th floor, Building H, Caulfield Campus, Monash University

STaR Seminar for Theology and Religious Studies

Hosted by Prof Constant Mews and Dr. Scott Dunbar, Centre for Religious Studies, School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University.
RSVP: John D’Alton – john.dalton@monash.edu

The Maronite Catholics of Lebanon are a Syriac-rite Christian group that affiliated to the Church of Rome in the 15th century.  All members of the group in Lebanon and the Middle East have Arabic as their native tongue.  At the same time their constant interaction with Roman Catholicism and Western powers made it easy for a fair proportion of them to learn Western languages: Latin, Italian, French and now English.  Some Maronites and some political champions of their militants in the West have dichotomized them as a semi-European people against the Arabo-Islamic hinterland. Although there have been attacks by some Druze/Muslims, I would characterize them as a dual-cultured people who swing between the West and the Arabs culturally and in international politics.

This paper examines the religious and political career of Ilyas Butrus al-Huwayyik (Hoyek), Patriarch of the Maronites from the late 19th century to 1931.  After World War I al-Huwayyik strove to create a Greater Lebanon state that would incorporate some Muslims and be administered by France.  More Lebanese Christians instead supported the hinterland Syrian government led by Faysal in Damascus than Western scholarly literature has recognized. Al-Huwayyik’s superb discipline and skill in constructing coalitions of Lebanese, and his cogent international lobbying led France to proclaim Greater Lebanon independent under their tutelage in September 1920.  Patriarch al-Huwayyik was the undoubted Father of a Nation that proceeded to develop parliamentary pluralism and a private enterprise economic system.  However, Catholics and other Christians who had embraced radical secularism tried to create non-denominational nationalist schools that would defend literary Arabic against France’s efforts to replace it with French.  

Dennis Walker has BA, MA and PhD in Arabic, and is a specialist in Muslim Cultural Nationalisms.  He has lived in Lebanon, the Gulf and Egypt, and the Malay World.  He is writing a cultural history of the Maronites , and another of Thailand’s Muslims, as an Adjunct Research Associate of the Centre for Religious Studies at Monash.

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