His interest is personal, as well as academic — his father’s family, back in Lebanon, follows Orthodox Christianity. “People think that Arabs and Muslims are synonymous, but they’re not. There were Arab Christians hundreds of years before the birth of Muhammad.”
Tannous already is deep in Middle Eastern lore. For his Plan II senior thesis, he translated portions of a 1,000-year-old Arabic text called the Kitab al-Diyarat, or Book of Monasteries.
“Basically, the book focuses on Christian monasteries throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq, and stories about the Muslim aristocrats who frequented them and the parties they had there," he said. “Approaching Middle Eastern history in general from the perspectives of the Christians is like writing Western European history from the perspective of the pagans.”
And this is what the College of Liberal Arts is all about, said Tannous. “It exposes you to a broader reality than what you see on TV, makes it easier to relate to people from different backgrounds.”
With majors in Arabic, history, Middle Eastern studies, philosophy and Plan II, Tannous’s interests seem pretty broad. He sees this kind of academic base as the essence of Liberal Arts, and his college as the heart of the university.
“We’re not a trade school — we teach people how to think, to appreciate who they are and where they come from,” he said, smiling.
“Science types think they have a monopoly on the truth, but they don’t!”