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
*GEORGE ABRAHAM MAKDISI
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)