This book review is from Volume 7 of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies (1994), pp. 180-182. The original pagination has not been kept intact and the paragraphing has been altered for web use. This web edition © 2001 Dennis R. Papazian.
Rouben Paul Adalian. From Humanism to Rationalism: Armenian Scholarship
in the Nineteenth Century. University of Pennsylvania Armenian Texts and
Studies 10. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1992. Pp. ix + 105.
This short study by Dr. Rouben Adalian, director of research of the Armenian Assembly of America, was written while he was engaged in extensive research as a graduate student at UCLA on a much larger dissertation. As the subtitle might suggest, this monograph is dedicated chiefly to the development of Armenian language research and historiography among the Armenian Mekhitarists or Mekhitarians, a Roman Catholic order of Armenian monks who use the Armenian rite in their worship and who have dedicated themselves to Armenian scholarship. By drawing up extensive secondary and primary materials, chiefly in the Armenian language, Adalian has provided a useful overview of an important topic which has not received its just attention in the English language.
Indeed, one does not have to be a scholar to profit from reading Adalian's book. He introduces the reader to the Mekhitarist order, the life and work of its founder--Mkhit'ar Sebastats'i--and the works of his coworkers and successors, such as the venerable Mik'ayl Ch'amch'iants', Gabriel Avetikian and Mkrtich' Avgerian, Arsen Bagratuni, Vrt'ans Ch'alekhian, and Arsen Aytenian, among others, as well as calling attention to the contributions to Armenian scholarship of Heinrich Hübschman, the great German linguist, the highly esteemed Russian-Armenian historian Nicholas Adontz, and the great French linguist Antoine Meillet. In order to make his work accessible to the intelligent reader, and not necessarily to the learned scholar, Adalian chooses to transliterate Armenian names in a way so that the average reader may pronounce them.
The work does not pretend to be a study of philology or linguistics, but rather essays to be a history of Armenian scholarship, most particularly as it developed among the Mekhitarists, in the nineteenth century. Adalian seeks to put order to the material he covers by classifying the Mekhitarists of Venice as either humanists, classicists, or empiricists and the Mekhitarists of Vienna as secularists, vernacularists, or rationalists. While one might quarrel with the appropriateness of the classifications, they do serve to help organize the material and to give us some indication of Adalian's thesis.
Adalian sees the role of the Mekhitarists as being fundamental to the development of modern Armenian literary culture and a modern Armenian national identity. Adalian argues that language was the primary battleground of the Armenian intellectual revival of the nineteenth century. With the advent of modernization among the Armenians, especially among the emerging middle class, "the basic instruments of mass culture had to be defined, refined, and popularized." Among the Armenians, denied state power, "only language availed itself" (p. 93).
Adalian sees the contributions of the Mekhitarist, made in stages over the years, as the production of vernacular grammars which helped to standardize the modern language, the writing of classical grammars which encouraged the reading of ancient sources, attempting to purify the language of foreign (corrupting) borrowings, gathering books and manuscripts to encourage research, publishing widely, earning the respect of European academicians for Armenian studies, adopting modern European techniques (chiefly German) for the study of classical works and linguistics, and providing translations into Armenian of important Western works and translating important Armenian works into Western languages. All this, avers Adalian, gave the Mekhitarists the pride of place among those engaged in Armenian studies in the nineteenth century.
With the phenomenal rise in secular education among the Armenians and the broad dispersion of Armenian studies into many parts of the world, Adalian recognizes that the heyday of the Mekhitarists is over; but this recognition should in no way diminish our appreciation for the yeoman work this dedicated congregation of clerics performed, and still perform, for the preservation and dissemination of the Armenian language, Armenian education, and Armenian culture. Those engaged in Armenian studies owe them a debt of gratitude.
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Dennis R. Papazian
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