In Memory of Thomas Phillip

In Memory of Thomas Philipp

(Originally published in Vol 5.1, Summer 2014, pp. 155-56)

Thomas Philipp died on June 11, 2015, in Erlangen, Germany, of cancer. Only 74 years of age, he had just come back from Boston, MA, his second home, and was full of plans for the summer.

Born on May 11, 1941, in Königsberg, East Prussia, Thomas Philipp began studying sociology and Arabic in Berlin at the Free University (where his father, a professor of Russian history, was teaching). Like many young Germans at the time, he was drawn to Israel and continued his studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There he received his BA in sociology and modern Arab history before going on to UCLA in 1966 to study with Gustave E. von Grunebaum, who supervised his PhD thesis on Jurji Zaydan, his lifelong “intellectual friend.” At UCLA he also met his wife, Iranian historian Mangol (Goli) Bayat, and together they moved to her native Iran to teach at the University of Shiraz for three years in the early 1970s. Returning to the United States, they held positions at Harvard University for ten years. Thomas also taught at Brandeis University, the US Naval War College, and the University of Haifa.

When he came to the University of Erlangen in 1988 to take over the newly created (in 1984) professorship of Middle East politics and history after the death of Alexander Schölch, he brought with him a wealth of contacts from the Middle East and the United States, greatly enriching the intellectual life of the institute of political science and the university at large. A steady stream of international guest lecturers then began to find their way to Erlangen, and I as well as many others had the privilege of meeting them in the elegant home of Thomas and Goli over wonderful dinners and after-dinner talks, from which one could learn so much about the global academy (and its eccentricities).

I was the first person he hired, as a graduate assistant in Erlangen. He had left Germany in the early 1960s, and when he returned in the late 1980s, I remember how interested he was in his students, who came now from a society that was so different from the one he remembered from his own pre-1968 student days. Ever wary of stuffy rituals and liberal minded, he encouraged young people to think independently and to find their own interests in the field of Middle East Studies, which he, never a political scientist himself in the strict sense, approached in an interdisciplinary way.

Interested in the intellectual, political, and social history of the Levant, he first traced the life and travels of Jurji Zaydan, and other Syrians, between Lebanon and Egypt; he then moved on to Bilad al-Sham more generally, organizing three international conferences in Erlangen, and edited and coedited the volumes coming out of them, as well as one on Arab provincial capitals in the late Ottoman Empire. In a multivolume project, he coedited the English translation of al-Jabarti’s History of Egypt. He was also interested in gender issues, and at a time when feminism was firmly in the hands of women, he wrote (in the 1970s) articles on women and feminism.

He will be remembered for these works, and he is greatly missed by all who knew him and had the chance to work with him.


Prof. Dr. Birgit Schäbler

Chair of History of West Asia/Middle East
Erfurt University

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