The Benedict XVI Chair of Religious, Cultural and Philosophical Studies in the Faculty of Humanities (FH) at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), in collaboration with the Cedars Institute and the Wole Soyinka Foundation in Nigeria, hosted between September 1 and 12, 2018, a group of 10 Nigerian students from different educational backgrounds, as part of the Study Abroad In Lebanon (SAIL) program. The aim is to bring together intellectuals with their peers from other countries and engage in an intensive, interactive, and exclusive course at NDU designed to broaden their world perspectives on “World History through the Eyes of Lebanon.”
This course is co-taught by 3–6 faculty members with different specializations: Philosophy, Theology, World and Ottoman History, and Art and Architectural History. During the intensive 10-day course, participants acquire rigorous academic knowledge and first-hand experience of historical sites of global and regional importance.
The course focuses on the historical foundation of Lebanon as a geopolitical strategic region that sets the stage for the rise of the Phoenician civilization and examines its emergence as a hub of international trade of global significance. It shows how Lebanon became a center of transnational culture and learning, a refuge for religious minorities, and a major religious pilgrimage destination. It introduces participants to the multifaceted aspects of Lebanese culture, vernacular, and cuisine.
Participants visited the Famous Dog River Valley in Nahr el-Kalb; Jeita Grotto; Byblos; Mghâret Afqa; Cedars of Lebanon; Baalbek; Qadisha Valley; Mizyara; Tripoli; Sidon; Tyre (recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site); National Museum of Beirut, Silk Museum, etc. They also partook in different lectures in addition to the Anis Makdisi Memorial Lecture (AMPL) delivered at the American Univesrity of Beirut (AUB) by Professor Soyinka titled “Oh-Oh, Fables Sweeter Than Facts: History, Culture, and Revisionism,” and introduced by AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri.
Nigerian students participating in the SAIL/WSF program also met with Professor Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and one of the most significant African personalities in the world, at the Garden of Forgiveness, an exemplary space that touches the back walls of three churches and three mosques, in the presence of Alexandra Asseily, the exceptional woman who initiated the idea of this interreligious garden.
For his part, Professor Soyinka spoke about the untold story of the Asaba Massacre during the Nigeria-Biafra War, and Asseily shed light on the Lebanese civil war, highlighting special cases of forgiveness in both nations.