The Second International Conference on Kahlil Gibran

Reading Gibran in an Age of Globalisation and Conflict 3-6 May 2012

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 : A Biographical Note

Kahlil Gibran, Lebanon’s great poet, painter and philosopher, was born in Bisharri, Lebanon, not far from the sacred cedar grove, on 6 January 1883, and died in New York on 10 April 1931, having emigrated to America in 1895 with his mother, half-brother, and two sisters. On 21 August his body was brought back to Lebanon and finally laid to rest in the Chapel of Mar Sarkis, an ancient monastery hewn in part out of the living rock, not far from the house where he was born.
Although Gibran spent most of his life in the West, his attachment to Lebanon, his homeland, and to his native tongue – reinforced by the time spent at the College de la Sagesse (Madrasat al-Hikmah) in Beirut between 1898 and 1901 – remained strong and vital to the end of his life. Symbolic of his attachment to Lebanon was his lifelong correspondence with the Lebanese writer, May Ziadah; though the two never met, a sentimental, but Platonic, attachment developed between them, and their letters, which have only quite recently come to light, are marked by their tender expressions of regard, their transparent openness, and their passionate commitment to artistic values.
Although his first book in English, The Madman, did not appear until 1918, the intervening period was one in which the poet had been imbibing, assimilating, and gradually bringing to fruition the manifold cultural influences with which he was surrounded – first, the patronage of the avant-garde Boston photographer Fred Holland Day; then, his association with his American benefactress and patron of the arts, Mary Haskell, and the two years spent studying art in Paris at her expense between 1908 and 1910, during which he rejected modernism in favour of a personal style expressive of his own poetic vision; back in America, the long hours spent in his Tenth-Street attic studio in New York laboriously bringing his craft to perfection; and finally, with the advent of recognition, admittance into the circles of New England cultural society. All this time Gibran read widely in both Arabic and English, balancing the influence of Blake and Nietzsche, for instance, with that of the Sufi poets Ibn al-Farid and Ibn al-Arabi, so that Eastern and Western influences insensibly merged in his psyche; the most important and enduring of these influences was one that went back to the earliest days of his childhood, that of the Bible – itself a book belonging to neither East nor West. The culmination of this period of gestation was the English oeuvres, foremost amongst which ranks the immortal Prophet, one of the most widely-read and influential books of the twentieth century. His chosen vehicles of expression in these works were the prose poem, the parable, and the apothegm, interspersed with his powerfully symbolic artwork.
Gibran was one of the very few who have achieved lasting eminence and fame as a writer in two completely disparate cultures. In this lay his genius. Belonging to no precise literary traditions, he was able to build bridges between East and West, evolving his own unique creed of love and unity, and thus enhancing the cause of peace and understanding in a world torn asunder by internecine disputes.

Introduction to the Conference

As crises proliferate across the globe in this era of accelerated globalization, where are the voices that can bring us the kind of wisdom, awareness, and balance so needed if we are to achieve justice, peace and that “brotherhood of man” envisioned in humanity’s perennial philosophies, East and West? In a world where anger, disintegration, corruption, disorientation and anarchy are the order of the day, Kahlil Gibran stands on his own, as one of those rare writers who actually transcends the barrier between East and West, emphasizing the importance of reconciling reason and passion, of balancing the physical with the spiritual, and of finding practical and moral solutions to the major global issues that humanity faces.

For Gibran, the challenges that confront the human race and life on this planet urgently necessitate not only a holistic and global approach, but, at root, a spiritual revolution, a paradigm shift and a quantum change in human consciousness. Gibran’s English and Arabic prose and poetry represent, in fact, an anguished cry to humanity to rediscover its lost harmony with nature; to evolve a universal code of human rights; to promote the emancipation of women; to build bridges of understanding between cultures and religions; to lessen the gap between the rich and the poor; and to curb all forms of exclusivity — whether ethnic, nationalistic, or religious — in recognition of one common humanity and a shared spiritual heritage. If kept to the fore through research and study, these and other values enunciated in Gibran’s works will continue to inspire many, touch their lives in countless ways and give them comfort, hope and joy in the prospect they afford of a genuine Culture of Peace – one in which the East and the West are equal partners.

The conference will devote particular attention to celebrating Lebanon, Gibran’s homeland, as the meeting point of great civilizations such as the Phoenicians, the Chaldeans, the ancient Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs. In the words of Gibran himself: “The phantoms of past ages walk in the valleys, on the heights the spirits of kings and prophets wander. My thoughts have turned towards the places of remembrance and shewn to me the might of Chaldea and the pride of Assyria and the nobility of Arabia.”

Early in his life, Gibran came to love his beautiful homeland, a love that developed over the years to become the greatest passion in his life, instilling in him a greater love for all mankind: “I am kindled when I remember the place of my birth, and I lean in longing towards the house wherein I grew… I love the place of my birth with some of the love for my land; I love my country with a little of my love for the world, my homeland.”
For Gibran, Lebanon was not only the name of a mountain, but a “poetical expression” and the very essence of his spiritual and intellectual creativity, hence his immortal statement: “Were Lebanon not my homeland, I would adopt Lebanon as my homeland.”

This Second International Conference on Kahlil Gibran is organized by The George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace in association with a group of distinguished organizations. The conference will focus on Gibran’s life and work and will also explore Gibran’s art and artistic contributions.

Day One (Thursday, 3 May 2012)

- Opening Lecture, Inaugural Dinner, and Book Launch of the English and Arabic-language editions of The Spiritual Heritage of the Human Race (Oxford, Oneworld, 2011) [7:30- 9:30 PM] – Founders Room
- Opening Lecture: A Crisis of Perception by Professor David Cadman

Day Two (Friday, 4 May 2012)

Opening Remarks
- Dr. Paul Shackel, Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland
- Dr. Paul Huth, Director of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland
- Ms. Tania Sammons, Curator of the Owens- Thomas House and Decorative Arts, Telfair Museums

Session 1: Al-Mustafa Speaks

All readings are taken from An Introduction to Kahlil Gibran, edited by Suheil Bushrui, (Beirut, Dar El-Mashreq), 1970. The biographical commentary includes passages from the diary of Mary Elizabeth Haskell and extracts of Gibran’s letters to her taken from Beloved Prophet: The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell and her Private Journal, edited and arranged by Virginia Hilu (London, Barrie and Jenkins) 1972. Extracts of letters to May Ziadah are taken from Love Letters: The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran to May Ziadah, edited and translated by Suheil Bushrui and Salma Kuzbari (Oxford, Oneworld, 1997).

Part One: The Arabic Phase, 1905 to 1918
- “My Spirit is to Me” from A Tear and a Smile
- From Al-Musiqah
- “Dust of the Ages and the Eternal Fire” from ‘Ara’is Al-Muruj
- From “A speech by Kahlil The Heretic” from Al-Arwah Al-Mutamarridah
- Letter to Ameen Guraieb, 12 February 1908
- A Comment on Literature
- Letter to May Ziadah, 1914
- From Broken Wings
- Letter to May Ziadah, 28 January 1920
- “A Tear and a Smile” from A Tear and a Smile
- “Letters of Fire” from A Tear and a Smile

Part Two: The English Phase, 1918 to 1931
- “Thus I became a Madman” from The Madman
- “The Good God and The Evil God” from The Madman
- From Al-Mawakib
- Letter to May Ziadah, November 1919
- “Dead are my People” from Al-‘Awasif
- From The Forerunner
- “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” from Al-Badayi’ Wa’l-Tarayif
- “Discourse on Teaching” from The Prophet
- “Discourse on Love” from The Prophet
- From Sand and Foam
- “Melachi of Babylon, an Astronomer” from Jesus, The Son of Man
- From The Earth Gods
- From The Wanderer
- From The Garden of the Prophet
- Selected passages from letters to May Ziadah

Session 2

- Dr. Suheil Bushrui – The Enduring Message of Kahlil Gibran
- Dr. Riad Nourallah – ‘Piping to the Spirit Ditties of No Tone’: Almustafa for Our Time
- Mr. Henri Zoghaib – Gibran’s Lebanon

Session 3

- Dr. James Malarkey – Nuts to Crack on the Path to Enlightenment: The Enigmatic Aphorisms of Kahlil Gibran
- Dr. Alexandre Najjar – Reading Gibran in the Midst of the Arab Spring
- Ms. Tania Sammons – Kahlil Gibran’s Representations of the Feminine Divine

Session 4

- Dr. Miles Bradbury – The Author in Search of Himself : Ameen Rihani’s Hurrying Up About it (1922-1929)
- Dr. Edmund Ghareeb – Andrew Ghareeb and the Art of Translating Gibran though the Arab American [Al-Majar] Press
- Mr. Ernest Tannis – The Originality of the Famous “Ask Not…” Quote from President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address in the USA

Session 5

- Mr. Robert Andrews – Kahlil Gibran Stamp Presentation
- Ms. Fatma Essassi – Gibran’s Concept of the Unity of Being
- Mr. Glen Kalem – Love is Work Made “VISUAL”

Day Three (Saturday, 5 May 2012)

Session 1

- Mr. Taraz Darabi – Exchanging the Gifts of the Earth
- Mrs. Susan Reynolds – Abdu’l Baha as Seen by Kahlil Gibran
- Ms. Judy Saba – Unity in Diversity

Session 2

- Dr. Jean-Pierre Dahdah – France: A Keystone in Gibran’s Life
- Mr. Guy Jones – Gibran in Ireland
- Mr. Francesco Medici – Gibran in Italy

Session 3

- Ms. Rana Kazkaz – Kahlil Gibran: A Film in the Making
- Mr. Mehrdad Nosrat – Gibran in the Persian Language
- Dr. Ma Zheng – The Study of Kahlil Gibran in Contemporary China: New Development and Influences

Session 4

General Discussion: Open Forum

“I AM”, a film by Tom Shadyac.
Introduction: Mr. Glen Kalem
Shown with the kind permission of Mr. Tom Shadyac and Mr. Dagan Handy, “I AM” is the story of a successful Hollywood director, Tom Shadyac, who experienced a life threatening head injury, causing him to try and answer two very basic questions that Gibran’s work also addresses: “What’s wrong with our world?” and “what can we do about it?”

Day Four (Sunday, 6 May 2012)

Closing Session

Inaugural Meeting of the International Association for the Study of the Life and Works of Kahlil Gibran
Consultations with the Gibran National Committee Chairman, Dr. Tarek Chidiac; and the Director General of the Institut Du Monde Arabe, Dr. Mona Khazindar