In her stunning new book The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant(Stanford University Press, 2012), Dana Sajdi, Associate Professor of History at Boston College, presents a riveting narrative of the intersection of literature, religion, and history in early modern Muslim societies. She does so by focusing on the chronicle of a common Barber in 18th-century Damascus Shihab al-Din Ahmad Ibn Budayr. Through a close reading of the intellectual and political conditions that gave rise to such forms of nouveau literature and by carefully interrogating the themes, tensions, and reception of this text, Sajdi’s analysis provides a fascinating window into the complexity and diversity of knowledge traditions in the early modern context. Most importantly, this book serves the immensely important task of bringing into central view non-Ulama archives and imaginaries of history and history writing. In our conversation we discussed the key themes of this book such as the concept of nouveau literacy, the literary and political disorders in 18th century Damascus, Ibn Budayr’s biography and intellectual milieu, the emergence of non-‘ulama’ chronicle writers, and the later reception and reworking of Ibn Budayr’s chronicle. This nicely paced book should work very well in undergraduate and graduate courses on Muslim intellectual history, historiography, early modern Islam, and in surveys of Middle Eastern history. Continue reading →
Professor Abdul Sattar Jawad recently presented, “The Arabian Nights in America” during his Wednesdays at the Center lecture at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.
The Thousand and One Nights [alf Layla wa Layla] is the most popular world literature in the West. These Oriental Frame Tales captured the imagination of generations of Western readers and prominent writers in presenting fairy tales, romances, fables, legends, parables, anecdotes, erotica, debates, and exotic adventures. Ali Baba, Sindbad, and Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, hooked the attention of young and adults readers all over the world. The Nights, in their rich and exotic imagination, inspired poets, writers, and artists from medieval European Literature to Postmodernism. Professor Abdul Sattar Jawad explored how the Arabian Nights inspired leading American writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville as well as folklore artists.
by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 17, 2015:
We at the Duke Islamic Studies Center are pleased to announce that the work of the Carnegie Corporation of New York-supported Transcultural Islam Project (ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN) has been highlighted in a new report by the Social Science Research Council — “Religion, Media and the Digital Turn.” The report surveyed 160 digital projects and documents the effects that digital modes of research and publication have on the study of religion.
“While our primary goal is to chronicle emerging forms of intellectual production shaping the study of religion, we hope that a greater awareness of this new work will generate more recognition of the high quality and innovative work that already exists,” report authors Chris Cantwell (University of Missouri) and Hussein Rashid (New York University) write, explaining that “the most innovative digital projects are often those that creatively combine a number of these models or genres.”
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 →
An Interview with Duke’s new Turkish lecturing fellow, Didem Havlioglu
by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 30, 2015:
Didem Havlioglu, a new Turkish Lecturing Fellow in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, did her MA and PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle in Near and Middle East Studies. Her research focuses on Ottoman and Modern Turkish language and literature — in particular, gender and women in literature.
She’s been teaching Modern and Ottoman Turkish language for 15 years, and comes to Duke as a Turkish lecturing fellow, after having taught at Istanbul Sehir University (a new private school in Istanbul) for the past five years. During her tenure at Sehir, she helped start the Turkish language and literature department and the Turkish for International students program.
QUESTION: Which courses are you teaching this semester and next semester?
HAVLIOGLU: I am teaching Elementary and Intermediate Turkish this year at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. My students are interested in Turkish because they want to study Middle East history and culture. They usually go to a study abroad program at Bogazici University in Istanbul or through the Duke in Istanbul program. Upon their return, they take second or third year Turkish. They are all very good students who like thinking outside of the box. For this reason, the classes are fast paced and very enjoyable for all of us.
QUESTION: Do you think interest from students is picking up for learning Turkish?
HAVLIOGLU: I am very happy to find that more students are interested in Turkish language and culture every day. The study abroad and Duke in Istanbul programs are the initiators of this growing interest. After living in Turkey briefly, the students come back to Duke with a good understanding of what they want to do next. For instance, they want to continue exploring, if not expand their initial immersion in Turkish language and culture.
QUESTION: Why should students learn Turkish?
HAVLIOGLU: I have always found it odd when I hear people talking about teaching language, teaching culture, and teaching literature as three distinct areas. For me, language is culture, and literary and other texts are tools that offer insights into the target community’s minds and souls. Carefully chosen texts draw the learners in and awaken them to perspectives that they never knew they had, not only of the other, but also of themselves and their own culture. Likewise, language learning consists not only of learning linguistic structures but also of understanding how meaning, mentality, and worldview vary in different communities that use similar words.
Therefore, I believe, learning Turkish, just like any other language and culture can be instrumental in students’ ability to become world citizens where there are more differences than similarities. We live in a time now where the question is, “How will the world be different because I lived in it?” and I believe my students are the people who will change the way we think about borders that make people apart. Continue reading →