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World literature experts celebrate Kahlil Gibran at LAU conference

Participants examined how the work of the internationally celebrated Lebanese poet, writer and philosopher continues to impact their countries.

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Dr. Vahid Behmardi, LAU Arabic literature professor and conference coordinator, gave some opening remarks and moderated one of the event's three sessions.

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The covers of Gibran's works translated into different languages were put on display at the conference.

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Antoine Tawk, president of the Gibran National Committee that co-organized the conference with LAU's School of Arts and Sciences, said that Gibran "represents a message from Lebanon to the world about diversity, forgiveness and the values of freedom."

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Eka Budianta, a member of the Indonesian Heritage Trust, said that Kahlil Gibran's influence in Indonesia has spread from literature to education, popular contemporary music, religious activities and even child naming.

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Dr. Djelal Kadir, professor of comparative literature from Pennsylvania State University, talks about the impact of Gibran's work in America.

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A dozen literature experts and academics from around the world gathered in Beirut on November 6 to reveal how the work of the internationally celebrated Lebanese poet, writer and philosopher Kahlil Gibran continues to impact their countries, at a conference organized by LAU’s School of Arts and Sciences and the Gibran National Committee.

Nearly 80 years after his death, Gibran’s works continue to be studied, cherished and revered around the world.

“Until this day, Gibran still exists in all cultures from East to West,” said Antoine Tawk, president of the Gibran National Committee, speaking at the conference held at the Bristol Hotel. “He represents a message from Lebanon to the world about diversity, forgiveness and the values of freedom,” Tawk added.

The conference was divided into three sessions and focused on Gibran’s “presence in different cultures and societies.” Each session featured three speakers and a moderator representing Lebanon, Japan, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Germany and France.

Dr. Djelal Kadir, a professor of comparative literature from Pennsylvania State University, characterized Gibran, who emigrated to the United States when he was a child, as a paradigm of America’s paradoxical culture, describing Gibran’s rejection of American naturalization and refusal to pursue American citizenship as “distinctly American gestures.”

“The magnitude of Gibran’s paradoxical status in America is no less immense when one considers … [that] his work has sold more than 10 million copies in English, with translations in more than 20 languages,” Kadir said.

He added that Gibran’s most famous book The Prophet, published in 1923, sold more copies than any other book aside from the Bible in the United States during the 20th century.

“All of this made Gibran not only an American phenomenon, but also a transnational one,” Kadir said.

“Kahlil Gibran was the one who drove me into the Arab world and world of Arab literature,” said Dr. Akiko Sumi, associate professor of Arabic language and literature at Kyoto Notre Dame University in Japan.

She said that while Gibran is less known in Japan than he is in the Middle East and the United States, his work is beginning to catch on, especially inside academic circles, as more of Gibran’s books are being translated into Japanese.

Eka Budianta, a member of the Indonesian Heritage Trust, a civil society organization, said that traces of Gibran’s influence are found not only in Indonesian literature, but also in education, popular contemporary Indonesian music, and religious activities, to name a few. Gibran has even become a popular name among Indonesians, Budianta said.

“We come from a country where Kahlil Gibran is deeply admired, fairly appreciated, and sometimes misunderstood,” Budianta said. “Lebanon is blessed to have been given the birth of Kahlil Gibran, the fighter of peace, the guru of humanity.”

Visitors trickled in and out of the conference throughout the day. Short opening remarks were presented by LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra and Dr. Samira Aghacy, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences in Beirut.

According to Dr. Vahid Behmardi, LAU Arabic literature professor and conference coordinator, the idea to hold the event originated two years ago when the Gibran National Committee contacted LAU seeking to collaborate on a project to mark the 125th anniversary of Gibran’s birth. An agreement was made and a committee formed to select speakers.

“The purpose of this conference is to show that Gibran is not limited to the Middle East and to the West,” Behmardi said. “Gibran is universal.”
 


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