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TAGS: American University of Beirut; Christianity; Interfaith dialogue; Islam; Judaism; Reform; Studying; Syrian Protestant College; Universities; World War I
LOCATIONS: Beirut; Lebanon
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The influential activities of the campus Bahá'í association in Beirut, 1900-1920 and during the first World War.
Thesis for Master of Arts to the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, American University of Beirut.

Bahá'í Students and American University of Beirut in the Early 20th Century

by Reed M. Breneman

Abstract: this thesis aims to shed light on a virtually unexplored chapter in the history of the American University of Beirut (AUB): the formation of a small but distinct minority group of Bahá’í students during the first two decades of the 20th century. AUB’s history, in particular its roots in the long-running debate among American Protestants on the proper sphere of activities for foreign missions, is first traced in order to depict the milieu into which this group of students entered. Under President Howard Bliss (1902-1920), the Syrian Protestant College (SPC) – as it was called until 1920 – was revamping its objectives as a missionary institution. The College now promoted cosmopolitanism and social reform, and conceived of itself as an experiment in religious association.

Next the contribution of the Bahá’í students to this change in culture is assessed in some detail. The missionaries had first encountered the Bahá’ís in Iran not long after the emergence of the Bahá’í religion there in the mid-19th century. Seen as a uniquely like-minded group by “liberals” at the College like Bliss and Bayard Dodge, these students were provided a ready venue in which to express the values, ideals and interests that constituted their Bahá’í identity. Of particular significance is the period immediately preceding and including World War I, a time marked as well by the growing intervention of the Ottoman authorities in the operations of the College. In studying the activities of the Bahá’í students, I have used a variety of archival materials, including student publications, College minutes and reports, personal letters and also Masters’ theses. Secondary sources have included historical accounts as well as memoirs written by former students. This thesis suggests that the Bahá’í students were a distinctive, active and disproportionately influential group on campus, significantly contributing to the transformation of the College during this critical period in its history.

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