Jens-Peter Hanßen (Born 1969) is Professor of Arab Civilization, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean History at the University of Toronto. He has held a SSHRC Insight Grant on “German-Jewish Echoes in 20th-century Arab Thought (2014-19);” and is author of Fin de Siècle Beirut (Oxford, 2005); co-editor (with Max Weiss) of Arabic Thought beyond the Liberal Age and Arabic Thought against the Authoritarian Age (CUP, 2016 & 2018), and co-author (with H. Safieddine) A Clarion for Syria: A Patriot’s Call Against the Civil War of 1860 (Berkeley, 2019).
Jens Hanßen received his Abitur in 1988. He studied Arabic and Islam at Tübingen University, the University of Alexandria, and Durham University, where he graduated with distinction in 1993. He did his M.Phil. in Oriental Studies (1993-95) and his D.Phil. in Modern History at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University (1995-2001). He played Varsity soccer in the 1994-96 seasons defeating Cambridge University both times.
As a doctoral student he held junior research fellowships at the Institut de Recherches et d'Etudes sur les Mondes Arabes et Musulmans (IREMAM), Aix-en-Provence, France; the American University of Beirut and the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft in Beirut & Istanbul. He also served on the academic advisory committee at the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and Higher Education to host Beirut as the cultural capital of the Arab world in 1999. He held a Fritz-Thyssen-Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Erlangen to conduct research the Arab renaissance before he started teaching at the University of Toronto.
Career and research:
Jens Hanßen has been at the University of Toronto since 2002, where he is associated with the departments of History, Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, and the department of Historical Studies on the Mississauga campus. From 2017 to 2018 he was visiting Chair of Arabic Studies at the University of Göttingen, and from January 2020 to June 2023 he has held a visiting fellowship in Global Intellectual History at the Freie Universitat Berlin.
Hanßen’s research explores the intellectual entanglements between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East since the late 19th century as well as the afterlives of Abbasid and Andalusian philosophy in German, Jewish and Arabic intellectual debates of the 20th century. He is interested in the connection between intellectual trends and urban culture, the rationalities of late Ottoman rule in the Arab provinces; diffraction, translation and travelling theory.
His writings have appeared in The New Cambridge History of Islam, Critical Inquiry, Arab Studies Journal, the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies and www.hannaharendt.net - Zeitschrift für Politisches Denken. He has recently co-edited the OUP Handbook of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African History with Amal Ghazal (2021).
Hanßen is a member of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (2022-25); a member of the International Advisory Board of the Khalidi Library, Occupied Jerusalem, Palestine; a member of the Executive Council of the Merian Centre for Advanced Studies of the Maghreb in Tunis (MECAM).
As a public historian Hanßen strives to decolonize our knowledge structure, to defend academic freedom in Germany and abroad and and to maintain scholarly rigor in the debates on German, Israeli and Palestinian entanglements.
• In June 2003, Jens Hanßen visited Iraq for nine days and produced a short documentary and co-wrote a report on academic life in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion.
• In 2005 he convened a national conference “Notes from the Field: Canadian Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies after 9/11” at the University of Toronto.
• From 2009-2016, he served as a member of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America.
• Hanßen participated in the Lebanese October Uprising (2019) and contributed articles and translations to the dissident online platform Megaphone.
• In 2012 he co-organized an international conference at Princeton University to mark the 50. anniversary of the publication of Albert Hourani’s seminal “Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age.” The papers were collected in two volumes published with Cambridge University Press.
• In 2021, Hanßen co-founded ‘Hearing Palestine’, a scholarly initiative at the University of Toronto that “provides an intellectual space for Palestinians and those interested in the history and future of Palestine to share their experience and research free from interference and disruption. This initiative facilitates discussion on cultural life, artistic creativity, social justice and current affairs in Canada and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from the perspective of Palestine.”
• Fin de Siècle Beirut: The Making of an Ottoman Provincial Capital (2005)
“Fin de Siecle Beirut is a landmark contribution to the growing literature in Ottoman studies, in Arab cultural history and in Mediterranean cities. Combining urban theory, particularly Henri Lefebvre's work on cities and capitalism, with postcolonial methodology, the central thesis of this book is that modern Beirut is the outcome of persistent social and intellectual struggles over the production of space. The city of Beirut was at once the product, the object, and the project of imperial and urban politics of difference: overlapping European, Ottoman, and municipal civilising missions competed in the political fields of administration, infrastructure, urban planning, public health, education, public morality, journalism, and architecture.”
• A Clarion for Syria: A Patriot’s Call Against the Civil War of 1860 (2019).
“This translation makes a key historical document accessible for the first time to an English audience. An introduction by the translators sketches the history that led up to the civil strife in Mt. Lebanon, outlines a brief biography of Butrus al--Bustani, and provides an authoritative overview of the literary style and historiography of Nafir Suriyya. Rereading these pamphlets in the context of today’s political violence, in war-¬torn Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, helps us gain a critical and historical perspective on sectarianism, foreign invasions, conflict resolution, Western interventionism, and nationalist tropes of reconciliation.”
• Co-edited Books:
• The Empire in the City: Arab Provincial Capitals in the Late Ottoman Empire (2002)
Co-authors: Thomas Philipp and Stefan Weber
“This volume includes various contributions presented at an international conference held in Beirut in April 1999. The paper’s main aim is a reconstruction of aspects of urban life in the late Ottoman Empire, with a local focus on cities such as Beirut, Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus and Baghdad. Without disregarding European influence on urban life in the 18th and 19th centuries, the papers exceed many accepted notions to the extent that they also emphasize the local, namely the Ottoman influences as an entity separate to the European impacts. In order to pursue these approaches manifold sources are used and examined, such as printed and archival materials, city maps, architectural designs, photographs, wall paintings, and others. By making use of material sources that represent the embodiment of social values embedded in architecture this piece of work uses an innovative approach to the combined study of architectural and social urban history.”
• History, Space and Social Conflict in Beirut; The Quarter of Zokak el-Blat (2016).
Co-authors: Hans Gebhardt, Dorothée Sack, Ralph Bodenstein, Andreas Fritz, Bernhard Hillenkamp, Oliver Kögler, Anne Mollenhauer, and Friederike Stolleis
“The anthology in concern contains seven detailed contributions all analyzing Beirut’s alteration and transformation over a long period of time, using the example of the quarter Zokak el-Blat. By using an interdisciplinary approach a group of geographers, urban planners, architects, social anthropologists, Islamic scientists, historians and several more, reconstruct the history of Zokak el- through varying perspectives. Hereby this volume documents not only social, historical and urban dimension of development, but also a broad inventory of the architectonical changes, leading up to the question of the contemporary and future constitution of this historically significant quarter of Beirut. Equipped with numerous maps and photographs this book enriches the understanding and knowledge of Lebanon and Beirut and its social and architectural change.”
• Arabic Thought beyond the Liberal Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda (2016)
Co-editor: Max Weiss
“What is the relationship between thought and practice in the domains of language, literature and politics? Is thought the only standard by which to measure intellectual history? How did Arab intellectuals change and affect political, social, cultural and economic developments from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries? This volume offers a fundamental overhaul and revival of modern Arab intellectual history. Using Hourani's Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (Cambridge, 1962) as a starting point, it reassesses Arabic cultural production and political thought in the light of current scholarship and extends the analysis beyond Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the outbreak of World War II. The chapters offer a mixture of broad-stroke history on the construction of 'the Muslim world', and the emergence of the rule of law and constitutionalism in the Ottoman empire, as well as case studies on individual Arab intellectuals that illuminate the transformation of modern Arabic thought.”
• Arabic Thought against the Authoritarian Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Present (2018)
Co-editor: Max Weiss
“In the wake of the Arab uprisings, the Middle East descended into a frenzy of political turmoil and unprecedented human tragedy which reinforced regrettable stereotypes about the moribund state of Arab intellectual and cultural life. This volume sheds important light on diverse facets of the post-war Arab world and its vibrant intellectual, literary and political history. Cutting-edge research is presented on such wide-ranging topics as poetry, intellectual history, political philosophy, and religious reform and cultural resilience all across the length and breadth of the Arab world, from Morocco to the Gulf States. This is an important statement of new directions in Middle East studies that challenges conventional thinking and has added relevance to the study of global intellectual history more broadly.”
Handbook of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African History (2021)
Co-Editor: Amal Ghazal
“The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Middle-Eastern and North African History critically examines the defining processes and structures of historical developments in North Africa and the Middle East over the past two centuries. The Handbook pays particular attention to countries that have leapt out of the political shadows of dominant and better-studied neighbours in the course of the unfolding uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. These dramatic and interconnected developments have exposed the dearth of informative analysis available in surveys and textbooks, particularly on Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.”
SELECT ACADEMIC ARTICLES AND BOOK CHAPTERS:
• „Malhamé – Malfamé: Levantine Elites and Trans-imperial Networks in the Late Ottoman Empire“ International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2011), 25-48.
• „ Kafka and Arabs“ in Critical Inquiry 39 (2012), 167-97.
• „Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar and Radical Press Culture: Toward an Intellectual History of the Contemporary Arab Left,” Arab Studies Journal 24 (Spring 2016), 192-227.
• “Albert’s World: Historicism, Liberal Imperialism and the Struggle for Palestine, 1936-1948,” chapter 2 in Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age, 62-92.
• History, Heritage and Modernity: Cities in the Muslim World between Destruction and Reconstruction , New Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 6 (Cambridge University Press), 515-42.
• “Reading Hannah Arendt in the Middle East,” in European Totalitarianism in the Mirrors of Contemporary Arab Thought, ed. by M. Sing and T. Scheffler (Beirut: German Orient Institute), 38 pp. Translated by Thaer Dib as “Qira’a Hannah Arendt fi al-sharq al-awsat: Mulahazat awliyya fi al-shamuliyya wa al-thawra,” in Majalla Dirasat Filastiniayya, 24: 95 (summer), 76-107.
• “Translating Revolution: Hannah Arendt in Arab Political Culture,” (35 pp.) for an issue on “Revolutionary Spirit,” in HannahArendt.net: Zeitschrift für politisches Denken - reviewed by Wolf Lepenies in Die Welt.
• “The Middle East,” in The Fin de Siècle World, ed. by M. Saler (New York: Routledge, 2015), 266-82.
• “The Incoherence of the Incoherence of Orientalism: a Review of W. Hallaq, Restating Orientalism” (2019).
• “Municipal Jerusalem in the Age of Urban Democracy: on the Difference between What Happened & What is Said to Have Happened,” in Revealing Ordinary Jerusalem (1840-1940), ed. by V. Lemire (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 269-86.
• “Crisis and Critique: The Transformation of the Arab Radical Tradition, 1960s-1980s,” The Arab Lefts: Histories and Legacies, 1950s to 1970s, ed. L. Guirguis (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 222-42.
• “Communism in the Middle East and North Africa: From Comintern Parties to Marxist-Leninist Movements,” in Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African History (2021), 197-224.
• “Ernst Bloch’s Aristotelian Left and a Monument for Avicenna,” Mizan (2022).
• “Wer war Khalil Sakakini: Eine Tagebuchreise nach Palästina,“ Geschichte der Gegenwart, 20. April, 2022.
• „Who was Khlalil al-Sakakini: Diaries to Palestine,” jadaliyya.com, April 13th, 2022.
• “Intellectuals of the Arab Word: Retrospective Introduction on Teaching the Nahda), English version: Henna; Arabic version:حِنا