Book Review of "Hegel in the Arab World: Modernity, Colonialism, and Freedom" by Lorella Ventura [Book Review]

Marx and Philosophy Review of Books (2019)
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The choice of tracking Hegel’s reception in the Arab world in order to explore the connections between modernity and colonialism is an excellent one, since it was Hegel himself who inaugurated the explicit philosophical discourse of modernity (Habermas 1990: 4-5). Ventura’s book is divided into three parts of roughly equal length of around fifty pages each. The first part provides an overview of Hegel’s philosophy of history, and of the place of Arab peoples and Islam in his philosophy of history. This section allows Ventura to put forward some of her own interpretations in relation to questions that are the objects of controversy in the secondary literature on Hegel. In general, Ventura’s account of Hegel’s views on Arabs and Islam draws attention to the internal differentiation which characterized ‘Orientalism’ as a discourse. The second part of the book deals with the indirect reception of Hegel in nineteenth century Ottoman Syria (which encompassed modern day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan). Ventura’s salutary emphasis on internal differentiation is one of the strengths of this part of the book. She emphasizes the differences between the American Protestant missionaries who founded the Syrian Protestant College in 1866 and the French Jesuits who founded the Université Saint-Joseph in 1880. Ventura argues that the American Protestant missionaries were influenced by Hegel (58), whereas the French Jesuits were not (59). The third part of the book attempts to provide an account of the direct reception of Hegel in the Arab world which, according to Ventura, only begins in the 1960s and 1970s. Ventura’s account of the contemporary reception of Hegel is based on the research that she conducted in Syria and Lebanon in 2009-2010, which involved conducting interviews with prominent Syrian and Lebanese philosophers and examining libraries. While the title of the book might suggest that it aims to provide an account of the reception of Hegel in the Arab world as a whole, the focus is really on the reception of Hegel in modern day Syria and Lebanon, with Egypt being given rather cursory treatment.
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