CFP Trans/Formations of Arabic Literary Theory

October 27, 2020 – Call for Papers

Trans/Formations of Arabic Literary Theory

Hosted by the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award Committee.

Preliminary Virtual Discussion Panel:
March 19, 2021, Arabic Literary Theory: Prospects and Limits [ Please Register Here ]

First in-person Session:
*June 14-17, 2021, Columbia University Global Center, Reid Hall, Paris

Second in-person Session:
*October, 14-17, 2021, Columbia University

[*Dates subject to change due to current health situation.]

The primary focus of this conference is on Arabic literary theory, engaging with its development from the pre-modern era up to the present. We invite scholars to explore a plethora of thematic issues tied to the challenges of mapping, reconstructing, and studying varied sets of Arabic literary theoretical frameworks with the aim of identifying cross-temporal and trans-local conceptualizations and terms for a genealogy of Arabic literary theory. While focusing on the formation, transformation, re-organization and enduring legacy of pre-modern literary conceptualizations across the Arabic literary continuum, the conference approaches modernist literary explorations as invitations to the study of paradigmatic shifts in Arabic literary theory. The conference aspires to cement a dialogue between classical and modern epistemic systems while questioning their boundaries.

Possible themes include:
-The presence or disappearance of the qaṣīdah
-Literary tarassul [epistolary art]
-Contending with Orientalism
Nahda literary theory
-Theories of race
-Genesis of narrative writing and storytelling
-The theoretical grounds for ‘plagiarism’
-Philological explorations
-Birth of the Arabic novel
-The dispute with al-muḥdath and al-muḥdathūn
-Rise of al-badī‛ compositional style and the resulting badī‛iyyah
-Rhetoric and its multiple dimensions
-Identity, social media, and cyberspace
-visual and spatial narrative forms
-Material and immaterial cultures
-Deviation and dissent
-Arabs and their others: Explorations beyond Eurocentric boundaries
-Exilic poetics and ḥanīn, self-narrative and biography

The conference requests active participation, polished papers, and salient contributions to Arabic literary knowledge. Participants are welcome to approach literary texts as “insiders,” thus also bridging the gap between literary, social, linguistic, and semantic studies. With some focus on modernity and its byways.

The whole conversation should be rooted in theory.

Abstracts of no more than 400 words are to be sent to the conference email no later than January 10, 2021 []. Please specify if you would like to participate in all the proceedings or only in the first session, or the second, and or the virtual panel discussion. A note to this effect on the left side of the abstract is appreciated.

In planning since 2019, this conference was collaboratively organized with the Committee of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

Conference Directors/Investigators [Organizing Team]:
Muhsin al-Musawi, Professor, MESAAS, Columbia University
Ali Bin Tamim, Professor and Secretary General of Sheikh Zayed Book Award
Lydia H. Liu, Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities and ICLS Director, Columbia University
Chiara Fontana, Assistant Professor of Arabic Philology at Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna
Elizabeth M. Holt, Associate Professor of Arabic and Director of Middle East Studies, Bard College
Tarek El Ariss, Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth
Nizar Hermes, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia
Rebecca Johnson, Crown Junior Chair in Middle East Studies; Associate Professor of English and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern University.

Conference Proceedings Investigators:

Lara Harb, Associate Professor, Princeton University

Boutheina Khaldi, Professor, American University of Sharjah

Questions should be emailed to

 The Heyman Center for the Humanities, Room B-101
74 Morningside Drive
New York, NY, 10027
  (212) 854-4541
  (212) 854-3099