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Professor of Modern History and Chair of the History Program at The Doha Institute for Graduate Studies

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies Seminar hosted Dr. Abdelhamid Henia, Professor of Modern History and Chair of the History Program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, presenting his lecture in Doha "When the State Becomes a Topic of Knowledge: from Ibn Khaldun to the Reformers of the Nineteenth Century," on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

Opening his presentation, the Tunisian historian asserted that the while the word dawlah or "state" has numerous uses in Arab-Islamic historical writings, the least that can be said is that it can be confounding, mixing phenomena and sometimes seeking to explain something enigmatic by simply increasing the enigma; one cannot resolve the cognitive issues involved with al-dawlah without leaving aside certain distracting delusions. The first and perhaps the most influential of these delusions, Dr. Henia suggested, is teleological: presenting the "state" as a phenomenon present throughout all historical periods. The need therefore is to uphold the historicity of the concept of "the state".

The scholar stated that his lecture aimed at contributing to a genealogy of the various expressions for political structures and their various uses employed today, and arguably throughout history, by focusing on the period extending from the era of Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century AD to that of the reformists of the nineteenth century. Following this trajectory, Dr. Henia presented an archeology of the various expressions used by personages striving to give meanings to changing political structures. Ibn Khaldun was the first to investigate the concept of "the state," while the nineteenth century reformers in the Arab world were the ones who began to consolidate its use, casting it in a specific, objective light.  

In discussion, the lecturer, Arab Center researchers, professors and students of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and the audience at large reflected on the linguistic records through which knowledge about the phenomenon of the state was disseminated, as well as on the implications of discussions prevailing among social actors about words used in each of the different stages of the state building process, between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. Referencing the amply analyzed research field of Tunisian territories, it was concluded, can be helpful in monitoring the totality of these interactions.