The Gibran Chair is inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s belief in the “unity of Being,” his call for universal fellowship, and his writings about freedom, love, equality, common ground among cultures, interconnections, and peace. These topics retain their importance and relevance in the 21st century.
The creation of the Gibran Research and Studies was initialized by Professors Edward Azar and Suheil Bushrui, and the establishment of the Gibran Chair was raised by Professor Bushrui and discussed with George Zakhem, a Lebanese man of vision who is internationally known for his success in the fields of engineering and construction, and for his philanthropic services in education. What follows is the rationale for, and the history of the creation of the Chair.
Given the ever-present need for mutual understanding between East and West, and the need to develop new ways to achieve peaceful coexistence, the relevance and importance of Gibran has become even more apparent over the years. At the University of Maryland, Professor Bushrui’s work has shepherded the development of the Gibran program, from its origins as the Kahlil Gibran Research and Studies Project, to its emergence as the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace, and today, in its fully consolidated status as The George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace.
The Kahlil Gibran Research and Studies Project at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland was the first academic forum in the world devoted to the preservation of Gibran’s legacy – a forum that laid the foundation for many significant achievements. Perhaps the most important of these achievements is Professor Bushrui’s biography on Gibran, which he co-authored in 1998 with Mr. Joe Jenkins, entitled Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet. While previously published biographies of Gibran have provided valuable insights into his work, these works discussed either Gibran’s work in Arabic or his work in English. The new biography by Professor Bushrui and Mr. Jenkins is unique in that it portrays Kahlil Gibran as a man of the East who was also very much a man of the West, and it takes into account this duality in one volume. Often cited as “the essential reference for scholars, admirers, and general readers alike,” Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet continues to receive most favorable reviews, and even today, scholars are working on translations of the original text into other languages.
In addition to publishing Man and Poet, Professor Bushrui continued to work diligently to enrich the educational experience of scholars studying East-West relations, to contribute to the discourse of analysts interested in conflict resolution, and to provide a greater understanding of Gibran’s contribution to cross-cultural communication and the universal values he championed. These efforts resulted in the First International Conference on Kahlil Gibran: “The Poet of the Culture of Peace” – a groundbreaking event that took place at the University of Maryland from 9-12 December 1999. Organized by the Kahlil Gibran Research and Studies Project in association with the Gibran National Committee (Bisharri, Lebanon), and with the cooperation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the conference was the first of its kind to be convened anywhere, and was indeed an international, multicultural gathering that attracted 150 participants, with representatives from Algeria, Australia, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Guadeloupe, Ireland, Kuwait, Lebanon, China, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
2006 marked the transformation of the Kahlil Gibran Research and Studies Project into The Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace under the Center for Heritage Resource Studies in the Department of Anthropology of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland. During this time, Professor Bushrui continued to lecture on Gibran. Among the multitude of publications produced by the Chair during this period are: Gibran’s Little Book of Love; The Essential Gibran; The World’s Favorite Love Poems; and Selected Speeches and Articles by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. It was also during this time that Professor Bushrui also launched a new lecture series, highlighting the thought and achievement of one of Gibran’s contemporaries, Ameen Rihani. The Ameen Rihani lecture series featured a distinguished lineup of speakers, including Dr. Marwan Muasher, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and Lord St. John of Bletso.
The work of the Chair was supported enthusiastically by many notable organizations and intellectuals, including: the Temenos Academy in London; two major English poets – Francis Warner and the late Kathleen Raine; the Lebanese community of Washington, DC who formed a task force, (Min Ajl Lubnan), to raise funds and awareness of the Chair’s activities; and, most notably, Mr. George Zakhem, who single-handedly and most generously decided to support the endeavors to explore Gibran’s life and works and, through them, to address the moral and social determinants of justice and peace. Named after him and his wife, The George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace was fully established in 2009. The creation of the Chair was due solely to the vision and magnanimity of George and Lisa Zakhem. Their pledge established the third Chair in Peace Studies at the University of Maryland, and the University of Maryland now enjoys the status of being the first institution in the world with a Chair in Kahlil Gibran’s honor.
One of the major events that the Chair organized under its new auspices was: The Second International Conference on Kahlil Gibran, entitled “Reading Gibran in an Age of Globalization and Conflict” (3-6 May 2012). Attended by Gibran scholars from 20 countries who assessed Gibran’s contribution to 20th century literature, the conference also examined the works of Gibran’s contemporaries, Ameen Rihani and Mikhail Naimy, who addressed themes of globalization and conflict together with the unique role of Lebanon in the Middle East and the world.
The proceedings of the Second International Conference were published under the title The Enduring Legacy of Kahlil Gibran (2013). This volume represents a comprehensive sample of Gibran scholarship throughout the world, with a particular emphasis on recent research, translations into new languages, and the preservation and enhancement of Kahlil Gibran’s international legacy.
Gibran’s legacy and influence also continues to grow through the formation of global academic organizations, made possible in part through the influence and initiative of the Chair, such as the International Association for the Study of the Life and Works of Kahlil Gibran (which was formally launched at the Second International Conference).
Since its inception, the reputation of the Chair has grown substantially, and today, it is widely recognized as the leading expert on Gibran studies, collaborating with scholars from a number of countries, including Italy, France, Lebanon, India, China, Australia, Spain, and Curaçao, who regularly seek guidance from the Chair on matters such as publications, translations, dissertation reviews, and musical as well as film and stage productions.