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Angie grabbed the book that she has been dreaming of reading for the last 9 months and started reading. People were passing by, children, adults and teenagers were talking, chatting, screaming, running and going from one stand to another looking at books and buying some items. Sitting on her chair, she seemed to see only the words on the papers in front of her and to listen only to the voice in her head that was reading loudly. She looked at the back cover and read a small summary of the book. It related a crisis that took place about 150 years ago in a big institution. For a while, she wanted to convince herself to put the book aside and to concentrate on the people passing by or to put some order on the books and journals on the shelves around her. Between us, she was afraid that the book wouldn’t meet her expectations and that she would end up reading an embellished version called “history” of some issues that made severe impacts on the people involved but called “personal” or “of a confidential type” by the ones relating them. She wanted to read about emotions and feelings and anger and problems and jealousy and competition … you know… the kind of things you live with, notice, endure, and try to escape in any workplace, and that no one talks about to the large public.

Lost in her thoughts, at first, she didn’t hear the young girl, who approached her asking for directions. When she finally noticed her presence, Angie smiled at her and directed her to the right place. She then, took back the book, flipped through the first few pages, missed a few acknowledgments and a foreword,  and moved straight to the preface. She sat back on her chair, and started reading:

“The 1882 crisis, or the “Lewis Affair” as some called it, at the Syrian Protestant College was a remarkable event in the history of the American University of Beirut, one of the oldest, largest and most progressive institutions of higher education in the Near East.

The crisis began when a heated controversy arose between the conservative and liberal members of the College faculty and the “Syrian Mission” (the American Protestant Mission) about the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution as opposed to the Christian belief in the divine creation of human life. The conservatives had accused Dr. Edwin Lewis, a professor in the Medical Department, of heresy in defending and propagating Darwin’s theory of evolution in a commencement speech he gave at the College and immediately demanded his dismissal from the College. The liberals swiftly rejected this accusation, supported Dr. Lewis, and insisted on full respect for academic freedom. The crisis, which continued for several months, led to consequences that profoundly affected the College. Furthermore, the controversy spread well beyond the borders of Beirut and created major ripples of disturbance as it became a frequent topic of debate among intellectuals throughout the region.”

So what happened? How did it all started? Who were the major players? Who was involved? Was Dr. Lewis expelled? What is Darwin’s theory of evolution?

To be continued… 

(The text in italic is taken from : “Darwin and the Crisis of 1882 in the Medical Department” by Shafik Jeha, (translated by Sally Kally), published in 2004 by the AUB Press). The rest is by Zeina Gabriel.