Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries & the Failed Conversion of the Middle East

Overview

The complex relationship between America and the Arab world goes back further than most people realize. In Artillery of Heaven, Ussama Makdisi presents a foundational American encounter with the Arab world that occurred in the nineteenth century, shortly after the arrival of the first American Protestant missionaries in the Middle East. He tells the dramatic tale of the conversion and death of As'ad Shidyaq, the earliest Arab convert to American Protestantism. The struggle over this man's body and soul—and over ...

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Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East

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Overview

The complex relationship between America and the Arab world goes back further than most people realize. In Artillery of Heaven, Ussama Makdisi presents a foundational American encounter with the Arab world that occurred in the nineteenth century, shortly after the arrival of the first American Protestant missionaries in the Middle East. He tells the dramatic tale of the conversion and death of As'ad Shidyaq, the earliest Arab convert to American Protestantism. The struggle over this man's body and soul—and over how his story might be told—changed the actors and cultures on both sides.

In the unfamiliar, multireligious landscape of the Middle East, American missionaries at first conflated Arabs with Native Americans and American culture with an uncompromising evangelical Christianity. In turn, their Christian and Muslim opponents in the Ottoman Empire condemned the missionaries as malevolent intruders. Yet during the ensuing confrontation within and across cultures an unanticipated spirit of toleration was born that cannot be credited to either Americans or Arabs alone. Makdisi provides a genuinely transnational narrative for this new, liberal awakening in the Middle East, and the challenges that beset it.

By exploring missed opportunities for cultural understanding, by retrieving unused historical evidence, and by juxtaposing for the first time Arab perspectives and archives with American ones, this book counters a notion of an inevitable clash of civilizations and thus reshapes our view of the history of America in the Arab world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This passionately written and engaging book presents interesting material that has not before seen the light of day. Ussama Makdisi addresses very important transnational and intercultural issues concerning the transmission of and reaction to missionary culture. Throughout, he gives a balanced account of American and Maronite/Lebanese relations, revealing details of the social structure and values of Ottoman society. Artillery of Heaven illuminates the cultural contacts and misunderstandings involved at a different time in American cultural expansion."—Ian Tyrrell, Scientia Professor of History, University of New South Wales
Library Journal

Makdisi (history, Rice Univ.; The Culture of Sectarianism) presents a simple but remarkable story of the first Protestant missionaries to the Middle East and of the life and death of their Lebanese Maronite (Christian) follower, As'ad Shidyaq. The author blends his previous scholarship on the Lebanese Maronites with an analysis of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, whose representatives set out in 1819 to evangelize the "Papal and Mohommedan impostures." The Maronite hierarchy had long been in communion with Rome while managing a static accommodation with Ottoman authorities that served both parties well. The millennialist and cultural assumptions of the missionaries and the Maronite suspicion of heresy led to conflict that eventually claimed the life of As'ad. Within two decades, missionary efforts culminated in a very different outcome in the person of Butrus al-Bustani, a distinguished Arab humanist and the founder of what became the American University of Beirut. Not surprisingly, his embrace of liberal Arabism disappointed the missionaries. Makdisi is a skilled scholar equally comfortable with nuanced English and Arabic sources. Though the relevance of this work to the recent history of Lebanon and American policy is problematic, it successfully refutes both the historical claims of American and Islamic "exceptionalism" and its "essentialist" doctrines and can be confidently recommended to academic and larger public libraries.
—Zachary T. Irwin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801446214
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/17/2008
  • Series: The United States in the World Series
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University. He is the author of The Culture of Sectarianism and coeditor of Memory and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction     1
Prelude
Mather's America     19
"The Grammar of Heresy": Coexistence in an Ottoman Arab World     32
Intersections
The Flying of Time     51
The Artillery of Heaven     72
An Arab Puritan     103
Reorientations
The Apotheosis of American Exceptionalism     141
The Vindication of As[characters not reproducible]ad Shidyaq     180
Epilogue     214
Notes     221
Index     253
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