Christian Sahner – Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present

among the ruinsNo present without the past. That goes for many countries, as well for Syria. Historian Christian C. Sahner went to the Levant to learn Arabic, until war broke out in 2011, and Lebanon proved to be more safe. Rather than jumping to conclusions, pick a favorite party or religion (though himself being American and Roman Catholic), Sahner breaks down his analysis in five themes or eras each having lasting effects in present times. First the role of Christianity in society, with roots Byzantine Christendom, replacing the many gods Roman and pagan cultures worshiped by monotheism. Then the arrival of Islam from the 7th Century and the various streams and factions. A logical third theme is the rise of sectarianism and competing minorities, not necessarily religious in nature. Ethnic backgrounds and political preferences each have consequences. The emergence of the Ba’ath Party and rise of the Assad family and its regime in Syria. Last but not least the civil war that was not an Arab Spring, nor a revolution. Sahner spoke to many local people from different backgrounds, plots everything in historical frames, but hesitates to write a conclusive end to his research, as the war raged on and Assad is still in power. Among the Ruins blends history, travelogue and memoirs in words and color pictures, looking for hope for tomorrow in the midst of ruins from the past. Anyone interested in the bigger picture of today’s developments in Syria, can use this book as reference.

About the author

Christian C. Sahner studies the Middle East, in particular, the transition from late antiquity to the early Islamic period, relations between Muslims and Christians, and the history of Syria. He nurses a side interest in the modern Arab world. Sahner received his AB summa cum laude in Art and Archaeology from Princeton in 2007. He then studied as a Rhodes Scholar at St John’s College, Oxford, where he earned his M.Phil with distinction in Arabic and Byzantine Studies in 2009. After, he returned to Princeton, earning an MA in History with distinction in 2011. In 2012, he completed advanced Arabic and Syriac language study at the Institut français du Proche-Orient in Beirut.

His doctoral dissertation explores the roots of sectarian conflict in the early Islamic Middle East using a collection of Christian hagiography written in Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Georgian. Through these biographies of martyrs, he tracks the causes of violence between Muslims and Christians, as well as the manner in which Christians came to understand themselves as a minority through memories of conflict.

His essays on the culture and history of the Middle East have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement and The Wall Street Journal.