Buṭrus al-Bustānī: between secularism and Christianity


Abu Samra, Muhammad, 1961‒

Date of creation
2024 Gregorian
Preferred title
Buṭrus al-Bustānī: between secularism and Christianity English
Work type
Single work
Work manifested
Work genre
Textual work

Adult, serious


The vast majority of studies on Buṭrus al-Bustānī (1819–83), a leading intellectual of the Arab Nahḍa, have focused on his intellectual “transitions” from the Maronite church to Protestantism and then to various secular pursuits, such as fostering a Syrian national identity, the separation of religion and politics, and supporting a political culture based on equal rights and religious ecumenism. The present article contends that the extant literature confers undue precedence to the secular over the religious in Bustānī’s intellectual biography. A balanced portrayal requires giving due weight to his engagement with religious matters, such as: a defense of Protestantism as the sole true faith; the divine character, textual integrity, and veracity of the Bible; and the rejection of Darwinism’s contradiction of aspects of his faith. The study also elucidates his explicit prejudices against Catholicism and Islam that were concomitant with his defense of freedom of conscience and support for revival of classical Arabic culture. The study shows that Bustānī strove to balance his loyalties to multiple intellectual orientations, creating tension within his own thought.