Talk on Occupy, Arab Spring, Turkey, Egypt.

At the Stanford Abbasi Program's panel “Summer of 2013: A Focus on Egypt and Turkey" (my remarks begin at 20:54). Watch at Vimeo…

Lara Harb’s Report on my Dissertation

For Dissertation Reviews, “a new site that features overviews of recently defended, unpublished doctoral dissertations in a wide variety of disciplines across the Humanities and Social Sciences”.

Harb writes: “[a]n attempt to analyze medieval Arabic theories of meaning and ambiguity beyond the disciplines of grammar and law has been surprisingly lacking in the field. Key’s dissertation not only takes a major step toward filling this gap but also establishes al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī as a key figure in the debate….”

Continue reading at Dissertation Reviews…

Occupy: the view from Tehran

In these two Arcade posts, I publish a paper by Arash Beidollahkhani, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Tehran. Beidollahkhani engages with Occupy and, contrary to my previous remarks on Arcade,   argues persuasively for a global protest connection.

Continue reading at Arcade… and then Part Two…

Turkey is Occupy not Spring: blog post at Arcade

The #Taksim protests in #Turkey should IMHO be read as part of #Occupy, not as analogous to the #Arab_Spring. The same is true of the protests in Brazil: Occupy not Spring. Discourses that link Istanbul to the Arab Spring are not good for any of the parties involved, and that includes “us” (or at least “me”, an Englishman in Northern California).

Continue reading at Arcade…

Stanford Report article

"However bad things are, no one is ever going to shut up and just take it for 20 years," Key said. "That dream is gone. The Arab president for life is over."

Comparative Literature professor Alexander Key says the seeds of rebellion were evident in creative works – from literature to rap music – long before the Arab Spring unfolded.

By Alessandra Aquilanti

With lyrics addressing the anger felt by the disenfranchised Tunisian population, the Tunisian rap song Rais Lebled (Mr. President) quickly became an emblem of the Arab Spring uprising…

Continue reading at Stanford…

English-Language Resources for Arabic Poetics

Arabic poetics - the theories of criticism of poetry and eloquence in classical (mediaeval) Arabic scholarship - has a great deal to offer the contemporary reader and critic. This post is an iterative and discursive bibliography intended to provide non-specialists with an introduction and orientation to over a millenium of sustained engagement with poetry by an intellectual culture that tended towards theory and had a predeliction for language-centered enquiry.

The Arabic poetic tradition is not well-known, and despite its echoes in Persian (and the echoes of Persian in Europe - think Hegel), and its better known (and better transmitted into Europe) counterpart tradition of logic and Hellenic philosophy (think Averroes), it is often not even known to exist. It is sometimes a known unknown, and sometimes an unknown unknown

Continue reading at Arcade… 

Arabology with Ramzi Salti

Radio interview on Arabic poetry with Dr. Ramzi Salti of Stanford University.

Amal Dunqul’s “La Tusalih” and Mutanabbi’s “Kafa bi-ka da’an…”

Argumentation in Later Islamic Intellectual History

My review of “The Development of Dialectic and Argumentation Theory in Post-classical Islamic Intellectual History”, by Mehmet Kadri Karabela for the Dissertation Reviews website, which does “friendly, non-critical overviews of recently defended, unpublished dissertations”.

"Karabela takes the post-classical phenomenon of ādāb al-baḥth (general argumentation theory) and places it in the context of the broader dynamics of argument, dialectic, and demonstration that run through Islamic, and European, intellectual history. His core contribution to our field is the analysis of texts on ādāb al-baḥth by Samarqandī (13th century), ʿAḍud ad-Dīn al-Ījī (d. 1355), Sayyid Sharīf al-Jurjānī (d. 1413), Taşköprüzâde (d. 1561), Saçaklızâde (d. 1737), and Gelenbevî (d. 1791). CONTINUE READING


Reviewing and Publishing…

Blog post @StanfordArcade: “I’ve just finished a review of a recent monograph on a mediaeval Arabic scholar in which I noted a few translation and typographical errors, commended the philology involved, and gave a synopsis of the contents. So much, so unsurprising; this is the way my field works. The review will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Islamic Studies. This review, however, turned out to be a little bit different, in large part because the monograph in question presented a puzzle…” CONTINUE READING

The Leveson Inquiry

New blog post over at Arcade:

The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press in the United Kingdom has just issued its report. The inquiry was occasioned by the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the UK tabloid press (especially Rupert Murdoch’s titles) in 2011.

David Cameron’s lukewarm reception of the report and, crucially, his reluctance to accept its recommendations in full because they include statutory, Parliamentary legislative, underpinning for the proposed voluntary but financially incentivized press self-regulatory body, has led to accusation of betrayal from the victims of the 2011 phone-hacking. And indeed from victims of press hysteria, malignancy, and carelessness towards the lives of those caught up, however tangentially, in scandals over the last decade or so.

It has always seemed to me, growing up in and now staying connected with the UK, that the press had the power to ruin one’s life… CONTINUE READING…

Full Text of Interview for 2013 Abbasi Program Newsletter

An edited version of this appears in the 2013 Newsletter of The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University.

1) Please tell us about your research.

My research on mediaeval Arabic and Islamic scholars is driven by, on the one hand, a desire to be as faithful as possible to their understandings of what was important and how knowledge worked, and on the other hand by my commitment to bringing their ideas into conversations taking place across the humanities academy today. The desire to be faithful to the mediaeval context and concerns of my subjects has forced me to pay attention to all of the disciplines in which their work took place, and since they tended to be polymaths this leads me to work in a variety of disciplines that no longer sit together as easily in the modern academy as they once did: philosophy, theological hermeneutics, logic, poetics, law, literary compilation, and history. One strand that pulls all these subjects together in the mediaeval Arabic and Islamic context, is a fascination with language, how it functions, and what it can do. One of the two books that I am working on at the moment deals with this Arabic philosophy of language. It also seeks to bring those mediaeval ideas into twenty-first century focus, for they are virtually unknown outside a tiny circle of specialists. That lack of knowledge speaks to a broader problem with Arabic studies, that despite the expansion in Arabic and Islamic programming in universities over the last decade we are still in an underdeveloped state when compared with our counterparts in, for example, Classics. Manuscripts have not been catalogued, and texts have not been edited. The second book on which I am working seeks to contribute to this aspect of our fields development, and will provide for the first time a degree of chronological and bibliographic certainty for an important mediaeval Arabic scholar together with the first edition of his poetics, currently languishing in a single manuscript on the East Coast.


2) What courses are you teaching at Stanford?

This year I am teaching two courses in English and two in Arabic. In CompLit 141 this Autumn we have been reading the translation of a literary anthology written in the 900s in Baghdad and piecing together the author’s attitudes to power, politics, fate, poetry, and personality as well as interrogating the narrative techniques that he used. In CompLit 101 in the Spring we will confront the loaded terms “philosophy” and “literature”, and ask how they might best be read and what role comparison should play. The course will start with familiar Greeks, move onto unfamiliar Arabs, confront old Europe, and end with contemporary Americans arguing.

My first course in Arabic will be an introduction to classical Arabic poetry (CompLit 194/346) in the Winter quarter and we will be reading the manual of poetics I mentioned above – a book that was written over a thousand years ago to teach students how to read Arabic poetry, and that still fulfils that function today. Then, in the Spring, I will address the Arab Spring in a course (CompLit 146/347) that seeks to examine the events of 2011 in the Middle East through the prism of literature. We will read short stories, poetry, graphic novels, and blogs in order to try and work out whether the revolution could have been predicted, and how it took place.

In the coming years I plan to offer courses on the 1001 Nights, pre-Islamic poetry, Arabic philosophy, and Arabic grammar and theories of language.


3) Why is studying Arabic literature important for Islamic Studies?

Arabic literature, and the eloquent expression of the Arabic language, lies at the absolute centre of Islamic studies. Islam today is a global phenomenon rooted in long histories of expression in a tremendous number of languages and cultures, but all of them pay attention to Arabic literature. The best example of Arabic literature in this sense is of course the Quran, the Arabic eloquence of which is usually understood as inimitable and untranslatable, and the revelation of which is understood to have come to a desert culture that was itself so obsessed with poetry and language that it could only have been convinced of divine truth through a miracle of linguistic expression. The centuries of intellectual production in Arabic which followed that revelation remain relevant, and contested, for Muslims today.

Letter to the FT in response to David Gardner’s review of Islam Without Extremes by Mustafa Akyol, 24 December 2011.

Letter to the FT in response to David Gardner’s review of Islam Without Extremes by Mustafa Akyol, 24 December 2011.