WATCH ABOVE: A poetry reading and contextualization of the Islamic Mystic Ibn Al-Arabi by Professor Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, University of Chicago Divinity School. (Introduction to Sells by Ellen McLarney, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture)
An Interview with University of Chicago Islamic History & Literature Professor Michael Sells
by ABDUL LATIF for ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 3, 2015:
In early October the University of Chicago’s John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature Michael Sells visited Duke University for two talks; “Translator of Desires” — a poetry reading of the Islamic mystic Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi; and a workshop on the Qur’an and its listeners.
Sells studies and teaches in the areas of Qur’anic studies, Sufism, Arabic and Islamic love poetry, mystical literature (Greek, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish), and religion and violence.
I had the opportunity to sit down with him on October 2 to talk about his research.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
QUESTION: What brought you to the study of Islam and Arabic poetry?
SELLS: In college, I was a student abroad in Italy and we had vacations. In one vacation I went to Tunis. I walked from the French part of the city into the old city and saw the different textures and intricacies of life, and I thought, “This is a culture and a world I want to be involved in.” I subsequently went back to Tunis, and later went to Cairo for a year. There I became fascinated with the pervasiveness of the Qur’an recitation. And Cairo of course was the center of the explosion of the use of radio and cassettes. The great Egyptian reciters played on television, radio. People were reciting in the streets on different occasions, and I became convinced that this was a central aspect of the Qur’an. Continue reading