At Brown, I teach courses in Arabic literature, Islamic intellectual history, comparative encyclopedism, and the problem of the vernacular in different literary traditions.
- What Went Wrong? Narratives of Decline in Arabic Literature (COLT 1813A): The concept of civilizational decline is a central theme of classical and modern Arabic literature. From the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258 to the rise of European and American hegemony in the Middle East, Arabs have spent centuries lamenting, debating, and reflecting upon their perceived fall from grace and the rise of other world powers to take their place. In this course, we will trace the question of decline through several centuries of literary and intellectual history. Readings include Ibn Khaldun, Ilyas al-Mawsili, Ibn Battuta, al-Shidyaq, Gibran, Munif, Salih, Said, Lewis, Hourani, and others.
- The 1001 Nights (COLT 0510K): This course explores the origins, performance, reception, adaptation, and translation of the 1001 Nights, one of the most beloved and influential story collections in world literature. We will spend the semester in the company of genies, princes, liars, slaves, mass murderers, orientalists, and Walt Disney, and will consider the Nights in the context of its various literary, artistic, and cinematic afterlives.
- The Encyclopedic Imagination from Pliny to Google Books (COLT 2820Z): This course will consider the history of encyclopedic activity in various classical, medieval, and modern contexts. We will explore issues of encyclopedic epistemology, book history, the classification of knowledge, and the obsession to collect, compile, and document everything knowable and unknowable in both real and fictional encyclopedias. Readings will include selections from Pliny, Isidore de Seville, Vincent de Beauvais, the Ikhwan al-Safa’, al-Jahiz, Avicenna, Rabelais, Diderot, Flaubert, Calvino, Borges, Foucault, and others.
- The Classical Arabic Literary Tradition (COLT 1310A): This course introduces the classical Arabic literary tradition, from the poetic masterpieces of pre-Islamic Arabia to the courtly romances and story collections of the medieval period. Topics include: literature and the Qur’an; poetic and prose genres; aesthetics and the divine; Hellenistic influences; popular literature; the medieval “novel”; and the intersections of literature and law, medicine, and historiography. We will also assess different critical approaches to the study of classical Arabic literature, including structuralism, folkloristics, and narratology.
- The Problem of the Vernacular: It has been said that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Under what conditions do dialects, vernaculars, creoles, and slangs become mediums for literary and artistic expression? How have writers in different cultures managed the relationship between their “official” national languages and their more intimate mother tongues? This course will explore this problem in a variety of literary traditions, including Chinese, Arabic, Hindi-Urdu, Greek, Hebrew, Brazilian Portuguese, Latin and the Romance vernaculars, and a variety of modern European languages.
- Desire and Sexuality in Arabic Literature: This course explores representations of desire and sexuality in classical and modern Arabic literature. We will also look at visual and literary texts from the European orientalist tradition. Themes include religion and gender relations, homosexuality, marriage and the family, and the legacy of medieval Arabic poetic, folkloric, legal, and medical engagements with the body. Readings by Salih, Darwish, Djebbar, Abu Nuwas, Bashar ibn Burd, Avicenna, Ibn Hazm, and others.
- Islam and Liberalism: The social and political upheavals collectively known as the Arab Spring have provoked a new installment in the centuries-old debate about the relationship of Islam to liberal thought. This course explores the philosophical and political genealogies of that debate through the lens of contemporary literature, film, television, graphic art, radio, social media, and the press. Knowledge of Arabic preferred but not required.
- Orientalism: Europe’s longstanding fascination with the “Orient” generated a major tradition of literature, painting, music, film, and scholarship in the 18th-20th centuries. Current relations between East and West remain deeply in thrall to this legacy. This course explores the many facets of Orientalism—historical, political, and artistic–from the pre-modern period to today. Readings by Flaubert, Tolstoy, Said, and others.
- The Quran and its Readers: Like the Bible, the Qur’an has had a monumental impact upon literary production in the Islamic world and beyond. Its narratives and imagery have permeated the textual cultures of Muslim societies the world over. In this course, we approach the Qur’an as a source of literary inspiration alongside the works of some of its most interesting readers, interpreters, and commentators, including Robert of Ketton, Dante, Montesquieu, Jurjani, Suyuti, Goethe, Borges, Sayyid Qutb, and Salman Rushdie.
- Before Wikipedia: How did humans organize knowledge before Wikipedia? This course explores the fascinating history of encyclopedic texts, archives, and databases in various cultural contexts. We consider issues of book history, the classification of knowledge, and the obsession to collect, compile, and document everything knowable and unknowable in both real and fictional encyclopedias. The use of Wikipedia in this course is not only tolerated but required. Students will be responsible for originating, composing, and curating new Wikipedia entries over the course of the semester.