Mysticism and Ethics in Islam: Inspiring talks by prominent speakers from around the world
The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan Chair for Islamic and Arab Studies held a two-day conference on Mysticism and Ethics in Islam at AUB, with the aim to give the wider audience a deeper understanding on the meaning of ethics and mysticism in relation to Islam. The conference was organized by Professors Bilal Orfali, Mohammed Rustom and Radwan Sayyid.
Joseph Costantine and Bilal Orfali recipients of Teaching Excellence Award
In its annual honoring of its educators who excel in their mission, AUB presented this year's Teaching Excellence Award to Dr. Joseph Costantine and Dr. Bilal Orfali. A university-level celebration was attended by President Fadlo Khuri, Provost Muhamad Harajli, FAS Dean Nadia El Cheikh, MSFEA Dean Alan Shihadeh, as well as colleagues and students of both professors. Dr. Orfali was commended by his colleagues for “succeeding in distinguishing himself as a teacher and mentor at AUB, inspiring many faculty members and students." Students that have attended some of his courses on Sufi Literature, Readings in Renaissance and Modern Arabic Literature, Arabic Stylistics and Metrics, and Abbasid Poetry, describe his enthusiasm and passion for teaching as matchless. Described as a lifetime mentor for many, he is commended for “his mastery of the presented material" and “his unique care to the wellbeing and development of his students." Dr. Orfali's care for his students, as for the content he teaches, was emphasized in his speech at the ceremony.
Exhibition Opening in Berlin ‘Cinderella, Sindbad & Sinuhe: Arab-German Storytelling Traditions’
In a first-of-its-kind display, the Neues Musuem on Berlin’s Museum Island currently hosts a special exhibition entitled ‘Cinderella, Sindbad & Sinuhe: Arab-German Storytelling Traditions’, created in collaboration with the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA). ‘At a time when societal debates are increasingly focused on demarcating borders and differences, it is all the more important to research the diverse, historically grown similarities and common ground between different cultures, and to present them to a broad, international public’, says Dr. Georg Schütte, State Secretary at Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), in his preface to the publication accompanying the exhibition. The opening event for the exhibition on 17 April was the cultural highlight of the AGYA Annual Conference 2019 in Berlin. The exhibition was created as a joint project between AGYA and the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, funded by the BMBF and with valuable support from the Council of Arab Ambassadors in Berlin and the Mission of the Arab League in Berlin. ‘By shedding light on the intensity of cultural exchange between Germany and the Arab countries since the Middle Ages, this exhibition demonstrates that no man is an island’, said Dr. Mustapha Adib, doyen of the Council of Arab Ambassadors to Germany, in his cordial greetings at the exhibition’s opening. ‘If we want the international situation to get better, it will have to be done together in cooperation and by insisting on what brings us together rather than what tears us apart.’ AGYA alumnus Dr. Bilal Orfali (Lebanon), who contributed to the exhibition with his expertise in the field of Arabic studies and literature, echoed this sentiment in his welcoming remarks: ‘In AGYA, each member, of which there are around 70 of us here today, weaves their own story, but the crisscrossing of these stories forms a larger frame story. The frame story is one of commitment – to cooperation, collaboration, research, understanding and shaping a better world.’
'I have never cooperated as much with fellow Arab researchers as I have since I joined AGYA'
How can we foster interdisciplinary North-South-South research cooperation? Why is it still so rare? And what are the prospects for an enhanced cooperation in the future? These and other questions were subject of an international AGYA symposium in Beirut on 5 March 2018. ‘I have never cooperated as much with fellow Arab researchers as I have since I joined AGYA’: with this statement, AGYA member Professor Bilal Orfali opened the discussion on ‘Chances and Challenges of Interdisciplinary North-South-South Cooperation’ of the international AGYA Symposium on 5 March 2018 in Beirut.
Aesthetics and the Human Scale in Contemporary Architecture in Germany and the Arab World: AGYA contributes to the Aesthetic Salon of the BBAW
In the tradition of the urban salon culture of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) annually opens its doors to the public for the Salon Sophie Charlotte, an evening of thematic discussions in a coffee house atmosphere. As part of this year’s event devoted to the theme of ‘Measure and Measuring’, AGYA alumni Dr. Kirill Dmitriev and Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali, both Arabists, moderated a debate between prominent architects on contemporary trends in their field from German and Arab perspectives. In several AGYA projects to date, both AGYA alumni Dmitriev and Orfali have collaboratively researched philological phenomena and the manifestation of linguistic encounters in cultural practices such as the narration of the life story of Buddha. Another AGYA projects took them to the Arab Gulf region, where they were puzzled by the architectonical developments, such as how architectural design seemed to strive for superlatives and monumental effects to the detriment of human scale (i.e. the set of human’s physical qualities considered in design and architecture). Thus, the relationship between human scale and architectural design inspired their contribution to the Salon Sophie Charlotte 2019 on ‘Measure and Measuring’. In the intimate atmosphere of the so-called ‘Aesthetic Salon’, they engaged the architects Bernard Khoury (Lebanon) and Prof. Dr. Friedrich von Borries (Germany) in a debate on their provocative viewpoints regarding ‘Aesthetics and the Human Scale in Contemporary Architecture in Germany and the Arab World’. After earning degrees in architecture in the United States, Bernard Khoury, known today as the enfant terrible of the Lebanese architecture scene, began his career in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war. The post-war economic and political reconstruction of Beirut, characterized by a strongly politicized and polarized society, influenced his architectural state of mind. With references to war and radical interaction with urban space, his buildings stand out as provocations. His German counterpart, Prof. Dr. Friedrich von Borries is a German architect and Professor for Design Theory at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg (HFBK), who sees his work as blurring the boundaries between urban planning, architecture, design and art. More specifically, his work focuses on the relationship between design practice and socio-political development in European cities. Starting with an introduction on the centrality of human scale as a measure in contemporary architectural thinking, the discussion quickly picked up momentum as it shifted to addressing political aspects of architecture. While both speakers agreed that architecture can be considered a political act (quoting architect and artist Lebbeus Woods), they interpreted the meaning of ‘political architecture’ very differently based on their cultural and political contexts. On one side, working in the absence of a functioning state apparatus, Khoury has turned to the entertainment industry, making ‘architecture for the rich’, with the aim of manipulating the realities of Lebanon’s most prosperous social classes. He built, for instance, a nightclub in a symbolic location in a Beirut neighborhood that witnessed horrific atrocities during the civil war. The club itself is sunk into the ground like a grave. With this architectural statement, Khoury aimed to illuminate the almost forgotten urban scars of past political violence. On the other side, von Borries focused on the state as an important player in actively shaping the architecture of European cities. In particular, he saw the state as having an important role in the creation of social housing, where innovative design concepts can transform public space and shared residences to bring together different generations, cultures and social classes. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant exchange between the architects, which was a welcome addition to the more scientifically-oriented discussions on ‘Measure and Measuring’ throughout the evening. ‘The discussion raised a lot of new questions’, summed up Orfali, ‘and definitely showed how the human scale in architecture can extend beyond physical qualities to include emotional, performative and political aspects of human life.’
Storytelling as a central theme of AGYA Annual Conference
Fairy tales and stories have the power to inspire. This is not only true for tales and traditional myths of the Islamic world’s pre-modern era, but also in today’s world of interactive storytelling in digital games and interactive learning applications. This became evident when Maic Masuch, professor for media informatics with a research focus on entertainment computing at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Essen, hold a keynote on 'Gaming as a Form of Modern Storytelling'. During the public event that was organized in cooperation with the German Jordanian University on 29 October, a panel of AGYA members Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali (American University of Beirut), Prof. Dr. Carola Richter (Freie Universität Berlin) and Dr. Jan Friesen (Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research) discussed the topic 'Storytelling Entangled between Entertainment and Education' together with Sally Shalabi, a Palestinian-Jordanian professional storyteller.