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Asfuriyyeh : A History of Madness, Modernity and War in the Middle East

Joelle M.Abi-Rached, Harvard University; Paris Institute of Political Studies

April 28, 2022 · 12:00 pm1:00 pm · Zoom

Institute for Transregional Studies

Dr. Abi-Rached will present her recent book ʿAṣfūriyyeh: A History of Madness, Modernity, and War in the Middle East (MIT Press, 2020). Formally, the Lebanon Hospital for the Insane, ʿAṣfūriyyeh was founded by a Swiss Quaker missionary in 1896. The medical establishment of the day hailed it as one of the first modern psychiatric hospitals in the Middle East. It closed its doors in 1982, a victim of Lebanon’s brutal fifteen-year civil war. Dr. Abi-Rached uses the rise and fall of ʿAṣfūriyyeh as a lens through which to examine the development of modern psychiatric theory and practice in the region as well as the sociopolitical history of modern Lebanon. She shows how the hospital’s role shifted from a missionary enterprise to a national institution with wide regional influence. When ʿAṣfūriyyeh closed down, health in general and mental health in particular became more visibly “sectarianized”—monopolized by various religious and political actors. Once hailed for its progressive approach to mental illness and its cosmopolitanism, ʿAṣfūriyyeh became a stigmatizing term, a byword for madness and deviance, ultimately epitomizing a failed project of modernity. Reflecting on the afterlife of this and other medical institutions, especially those affected by war, the book calls for a new “ethics of memory,” more attuned to our global yet increasingly fragmented, unstable, and violent present.

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