George A. Makdisi (1920-2002)

Middle East Medievalists would like to express their deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Professor George A. Makdisi (1920-2002), Professor Emeritus of Arabic & Islamic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania who passed away on Friday, 6 September 2002.

Professor Makdisi was an Honorary MEMber of Middle East Medievalists.


George A. Makdisi, Emeritus Professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies in the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern (formerly Oriental) Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, died at his home in Media, Pennsylvania in the United States of America on Friday, 6 September 2002.

Makdisi was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1920. Following an early educational career in both the United States and Lebanon, Makdisi pursued graduate studies in France where he obtained the degree of Docteur es-Lettres at the Sorbonne in 1964. He taught at both the University of Michigan and Harvard before coming to the University of Pennsylvania as Professor of Arabic in 1973. He continued to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies until his retirement in 1990. During that period he served as Chair of the Department of Oriental Studies, and convened a series of conferences with his academic colleagues in Europe that were aimed at bringing together American and European research on the Arab-Islamic and Byzantine worlds during the medieval period.

Makdisi is generally acknowledged on a world-wide scale as one of the greatest Arabists and Islamicists of his generation. His greatest interest was in the study of Arabic texts from the great classical age of Islamic thought, and that was also the focus of his teaching. The large number of his distinguished students who hold academic positions in both the United States and Europe bear witness to the inspiration that his scholarly example provided to so many. Makdisi’s own publications began by focusing on the intellectual environment within which theological controversies were discussed within the Muslim community and especially on the work of Ibn `Aqil, to whose masterwork, Al-Wadih fi Usul al-Fiqh, Makdisi devoted much attention during the earlier stages of his career and to which he returned after retirement in order to prepare the text for publication (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 3 volumes). To the broader realm of medieval studies, one where he played a crucial role in insisting on an increased awareness of the role of Arab-Islamic culture among his more Euro-centric colleagues, Makdisi contributed a number of crucially important works, prime among which were his two volumes, The Rise of Colleges (1981) and The Rise of Humanism (1990).

Professor Makdisi is survived by his second wife, Nicole; and children from his first marriage, sons John and Thomas; daughters, Catherine Viscusi, Theresa Walsh, Ann Mazur and Jeanne Makdisi; sister, Mary Fayad; ten grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.  His first wife, Margaret Anderson Gray, predeceased her husband in June 1974.

*Adapted with the kind permission of Professor Roger Allen (University of Pennsylvania).  (Revised)


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