MESA Book Awards
2008 Albert Hourani Book Award Co-Winner
Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East
Cornell University Press
Ussama Makdisi has written a ground-breaking study of the American missionary enterprise in the Eastern Mediterranean during the nineteenth century. A masterpiece of accessibility and sophistication, Makdisi’s history is clearly intended to address our age by re-examining an older kind of American involvement in the Middle East. Through an exhaustive exploitation of missionary archives in the United States, Makdisi demonstrates how American missionaries applied the experiences of proselytizing among native American Indians to their mission work in the Eastern Mediterranean. Using the martyrdom of the young Maronite convert to Protestantism As`ad Shidyaq as his starting point, Makdisi subjects the American missionaries to double scrutiny – by their Lebanese contemporaries of the Nahda, and by present day scholarship. He critically examines the ideological certainties of the early American missionaries, confident of their doctrinal superiority over Eastern churches. Yet Makdisi’s book carries a message of hope and tolerance as well, as the founders of the Syrian Protestant College, known today as the American University of Beirut, came to see enlightenment in terms of tolerance and compassion “for all mosques and temples and synagogues as well as for all churches,” in the words of Howard Bliss.