Lebanese American University


Lessons from History

Interdisciplinary seminar studies the case of religious conflicts and coexistence in early modern Germany wondering if any lessons can be learnt for contemporary Lebanon.

Participants reflected on the similarities and differences between the German and Lebanese contexts.

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On September 28 the Department of Social Sciences at LAU Byblos held a dynamic and thought-provoking interdisciplinary seminar entitled “Religious Conflict and Religious Coexistence in Early Modern Germany: any Lessons for Contemporary Lebanon?”

Dr. Christian Kuehner, a research associate from the University of Cambridge served as the keynote guest speaker and offered a stimulating overview of the complex dynamics governing the German multi-sectarian experience—namely the struggle between Catholics and Protestants of the early modern period between the years 1500-1650 AD.

“By examining past relationships between religion and politics we may be able to uncover insights of present-day relationships,” argues Kuehner.

“That is, after all, what the scholarship of history is supposed to do,” he adds poignantly.

The chief focus of Kuehner’s seminar was to provide a comprehensive analysis of how the relationship between state and religion was negotiated in Europe as well as a review of Germany’s unique and unlikely path to secularism.

Additionally, Kuehner outlined the underlying historical roots of the wars of religion that plagued Europe for many decades. He explained that as the two main religious denominations—Catholic and Protestant, began to diverge culturally and theologically it became virtually impossible to govern vis-à-vis a political system that pledged allegiance to one religion at the expense of the other.

“Secularism was a makeshift solution—it came about not because it was genuinely desired, but rather because there was no other choice,” Kuehner explains.

The seminar shifted gears as the fascinating case study of Germany was employed as a vehicle to initiate dialogue and to unpack the specificities of the contemporary and hotly contested Lebanese political landscape.

“Most of the time discussing such topics in Lebanon is considered taboo but here we proved we can discuss these pertinent topics in a healthy way that generates academic insights,” says the event’s organizer, Dr. Tamirace Fakhoury—assistant professor of political sciences and international affairs at LAU Byblos.

“We are not transplanting the German case on the Lebanese context but rather using it as a tool to explore various Lebanese dimensions, ” stressed Fakhoury.

As the moderator of the event, Fakhoury reflected on the similarities and differences between the German and Lebanese contexts and prompted attendees to suggest plausible explanations as to why attempts at reforming the Lebanese political system have failed in recent years.

“We examine these challenging questions first and foremost as researchers—as political scientists with the common endeavor of producing knowledge and breaking barriers,” Fakhoury says.

These important and difficult questions were reflected on with measured gravitas and sparked a lively, engaged and dynamic discussion centered on the Lebanese political context taking into consideration its specific nuances and unique historical trajectory.

“It was great to be able to debate such different points of view,” says third-year economics student Jamil Abou Eyoun El-Soud. “These are sensitive issues but were dealt with in a very scientific manner.”

The seminar was open to all in the LAU community and brought together students from various disciplines and departments. Indeed, even some faculty members joined the discussion such as Dr. Brigitte Wex, assistant professor of chemistry: “It was a very eye-opening and fascinating lecture.”


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