Director's Address 2017

It is a great pleasure for me as the new director of the OIB to write this address.
Having taken up the position at the beginning of October 2017 and having completed
my first 100 days on the job, I consider this a good opportunity to take stock and look
towards the coming year and the future in general.

The political situation during the last quarter of 2017 was marked by Prime Minister
Sa'd al-Hariri stepping down from office. He announced this decision in Riyadh, Saudi-
Arabia, which ushered in a flurry of international activities that allowed him first to leave
Saudi-Arabia for France and Egypt and then to withdraw his resignation and resume
office. The Lebanese government and society at large dealt with this crisis promptly
and effectively, due to their long-standing experience of government crises. Within
hours of the resignation, the army pledged its full support for the government, the
Central Bank declared that provisions had been made and the Lebanese pound was
kept stable. Yet, international news coverage, especially in Germany, drew an overly
alarming picture of the situation. The crisis led to more international and diplomatic
attention for Lebanon, with high-ranking state visits being announced. (Federal President
Steinmeier travelled to Lebanon as the first German head of state since the visit
of the last German Emperor almost 120 years earlier, which prompted some interest
in the holdings of the OIB library on this subject.) Likewise, international NGOs and
foundations are not relinquishing their multifold activities in Lebanon which may lead
to some fruitful cooperation with the OIB in the future.

Work at the OIB was not affected by the political situation, and everybody arrived in
Beirut according to schedule. The arrival of the new director at the Institute coincided
with those of a number of international visiting fellows, both docs and postdocs.
Currently, the OIB houses twelve visiting fellows (DOCTORAL, POSTDOCTORAL AND HANSROBERT
RÖMER FELLOWS) from Egypt, France, Italy, Russia, the US, Lebanon and
Germany. Together with the research associates at the OIB, this makes for a lively
research community of twenty people. We have strengthened the academic ties
between visiting fellows and OIB researchers by reshaping the internal colloquium –
our weekly meeting in which researchers present their projects – and by further
encouraging contributions by the visiting fellows to academic life at the OIB, in order
to create an even more vibrant research community.

The visiting fellows bring with them diverse disciplinary backgrounds which reflect on
the interdisciplinary nature of the research undertaken at the OIB. The study of Middle
Eastern societies, in Lebanon and beyond, tends to be more fruitful when more than
one discipline is consulted. The exchanges, arguments and questions arising from the
research community, which works and functions in interdisciplinary ways, is highly
valued by the participants. The scholars who have passed through the OIB over the
years have come from Islamic and Oriental Studies backgrounds, but also from the
cultural and social sciences. Together they have spanned the history of the Middle
East and Islam from the very beginnings to the present day.

We have so far identified 186 alumni of the OIB over the past twenty odd years and
have contacted and encouraged them to stay in touch and inform us about new books,
research endeavours and other academic pursuits of general interest. A get-together
of alumni at an international conference will be tried out for the first time at WOCMES
2018, where members of the OIB research community (STAFF AND A VISITING FELLOW)
were accepted at the end of 2017, with a panel on the topic of "Neighbourliness:
Neighbourhood Relations in Beirut and Beyond" (BIRGIT SCHÄBLER, NADIA VON MALTZAHN,
MONIQUE BELLAN, JONATHAN KRIENER, MARIE KARNER). The topic of "neighbourliness –
neighbour hood relations" is the thematic focus for the year 2018, the overall research
theme for the next few years being "relations."
This new research theme is broad enough to enable the participation of OIB researchers,
while highlighting overlaps between the various ongoing research projects and interests (see
The theme of "relations" seems especially apt at this stage of international research
in transnational and transregional frameworks. While questions of entanglement,
connectivity and interrelatedness have been prominent on the international research
agenda in recent years, with the movements of people, goods and ideas being studied
in detail, the nature of the relations established by these movements has been neglected
and so has the seemingly basic concept of relations as such. Yet, broadly speaking,
relations lie at the heart of just about any human social activity. At the least, relations
are found between humans themselves, humans and their productions, humans and
their environment, and humans and the divine.

Relations between human beings can be inter-personal on the micro-level, intersocial
(inter-group) on the meso-level and inter-national or inter-regional at the
macro-level of analysis. On the micro-level, relationships of kinship, friendship and
neighbourliness will be a research focus. How do such relationships work and how
can we analyse them? Kinship relations, for example, cannot be looked at through the
lens of genetics alone, and friendship is not solely an entirely voluntary emotional
relation. Both are imagined and constructed in many ways. Conversely, the concept
of neighbourhood is primarily one of non-voluntary spatial proximity, which seems to
operate under the normative assumption of "(good) neighbourliness." The borders of
neighbourhoods are special boundaries that can easily turn into spaces of violence
when they are transgressed. This is true for the micro-, meso- and macro-level of
neighbourhood boundaries. At the same time, when proverbial neighbourliness works,
it can be a strong source of support and even save lives in times of crisis.

The current projects of researchers at the OIB are concerned with questions regarding
the connectivity between state and society, and the quality of relations between state
actors and society actors, as well as intra-society relations (labour relations, gender
relations, generational relations). They look at the institutions and forces of society
in the realms of scholarship, art and the media. Here, relations between the wide field of
scholarly, artistic and literary production and consumption are a special focus as are
relations between societies and their material environments (nature, architecture,
archaeology) and relations concerning the production of theological and religious
knowledge. On the macro-level, the relations between the Middle East and other world
regions (Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas) raise theoretical questions which can
only be answered by consulting the theories and approaches of a number of
disciplines (International Relations, History, Sociology, Psychology) as well as Islamic and other
Area Studies. This also entails the problem of disciplinary knowledge and area
knowledge. These different types of relations will inform our medium term research

In December 2017 the OIB has participated in the International Book Fair in Beirut,
where it organised a reading from volume 57 of the Bibliotheca Islamica, Ākām almarjān
fī ah. kām al-jānn (The Hills of Precious Pearls Concerning the Legal Ordinances
of the Jinn), the first critical edition of the most comprehensive monograph about
Jinn and their legal ordinances in Islam, written by Badr al-Dīn al-Shiblī, a jurist and
judge of the fourteenth century CE. The text gives an overview of all religious, denominational
and philosophical theories and ordinances about the jinn, Iblīs and all types of
satanic creatures. It also contains numerous stories and anecdotes of kidnapping, intermarriage
between humans and jinn, sorcery and much more. The reading was done by
Dr. Edward Badeen, the editor of the volume, and the event was introduced by deputy
director ASTRID MEIER.

In November the OIB hosted a workshop organised by MARIEKE KRIJNEN on the "Financialisation
of Housing and Real Estate in Lebanon." Financialisation entails the "increasing
dominance of financial actors, markets, practices, measurements and narratives, at
various scales, resulting in a structural transformation of economies, firms (including
financial institutions), states and households." The workshop brought together international
and Lebanese academics and experts in order to explore common themes
and foster mutual learning through their knowledge of different contexts. The historic
villa of the OIB was a particularly apt location for this workshop since it is surrounded
by the results of this financialisation: ever-increasing numbers of high-rises in a historic
quarter that would deserve much more heritage protection.

In October 2017 an international conference on "Contextualising the Art Salon in the
Arab Region" took place at both the OIB and the Sursock Museum, organised by
NADIA VON MALTZAHN and MONIQUE BELLAN and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.
An interesting mix of researchers and curators, artists and critics discussed the
emergence of the art salon in the region in a colonial and post-colonial context,
reflecting on a special brand of knowledge relations between Europe and the Middle
East of which very little is known. A publication is planned in time for the Sursock
Museum's next Salon d'Automne at the end of 2018. In 2017 the longer-term projects
of the research staff still took place in research clusters established in previous years.
For further details on the above events, as well as the manifold activities of the OIB
before October 2017 under the competent leadership of my predecessor, STEFAN LEDER,
the reader is kindly referred to the pages of this annual report.

Birgit Schäbler

(From the yearly report 2017)