Book: Asfuriyyeh; A History of Madness, Modernity, and War in the Middle East by Joelle Abi-Rached

ʿAṣfūriyyeh (formally, the Lebanon Hospital for the Insane) was founded by a Swiss Quaker missionary in 1896, one of the first modern psychiatric hospitals in the Middle East. It closed its doors in 1982, a victim of Lebanon’s brutal fifteen-year civil war. In this book, Joelle Abi-Rached uses the rise and fall of ʿAṣfūriyyeh as a lens through which to examine the development of modern psychiatric theory and practice in the region as well as the sociopolitical history of modern Lebanon. 

Abi-Rached shows how ʿAṣfūriyyeh’s role shifted from a missionary enterprise to a national institution with wide regional influence. She offers a gripping chronicle of patients’ and staff members’ experiences during the Lebanese civil war and analyzes the hospital’s distinctive nonsectarian philosophy. When ʿAṣfūriyyeh closed down, health in general and mental health in particular became more visibly “sectarianized”—monopolized by various religious and political actors. Once hailed for its progressive approach to mental illness and its cosmopolitanism, ʿAṣfūriyyeh became a stigmatizing term, a byword for madness and deviance, ultimately epitomizing a failed project of modernity. Reflecting on the afterlife of this and other medical institutions, especially those affected by war, Abi-Rached calls for a new “ethics of memory,” more attuned to our global yet increasingly fragmented, unstable, and violent present.

ʿAṣfūriyyeh is the first volume in the MIT Press’s new Culture and Psychiatry series.

Find out more on MIT Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s