The Birth of Psychiatry in the Middle East: Power, Knowledge, and the Banality of Good and Evil

Thursday Lecture Series

  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].

Rather than framing the birth of modern psychiatric thinking and practice in the modern Middle East as either a sign of modernity or a dispositif (in the Foucauldian sense) in the proselytizing and civilizing missions of the fin-de-siècle, I argue instead that it should be situated within the power struggles of the late nineteenth century between diverse actors (local and global). I show how knowledge became politicized, and “zones of influence” (which included universities, medical schools, and hospitals) were created, developed, and sustained, from the humanitarian interventions of 1860s in the Ottoman Levant to the Cold War a century later. Drawing on missionary writings and diplomatic correspondences, I hope to show how medicine more broadly speaking played a prominent role in this long competition over epistemic influence in the region between various players.

Photo caption: Theophilus Waldmeier and his staff at 'Asfuriyyeh ca. 1907. Source: American University of Beirut, Saab Medical Library, Digital Archives