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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Part II | Convenor: Dr Charis Olszok

Course Description 2023-24

This paper introduces students to a selection of advanced texts to enhance their understanding of textual analysis and linguistic expression and to develop their knowledge of literary historical and critical approaches.

This paper combines classical and modern genres of Arabic literature, introducing students to intersections in theme and aesthetics, and the central place of pre-modern literary heritage in the emergence of modern literature. Students will be introduced to a wide range of poetry and prose, studying their contexts and how they might be read comparatively. In this respect, they will be expected to engage with a variety of historical and theoretical and critical readings in addition to their reading of the primary material. Through this focus on classical and modern intersections, the course is themed around the prominence of animals and nonhuman creatures, from the pre-Islamic qasida to the modern novel. We will read contemporary novels that employ animals to address the dystopia of war or the transition to the modern nation-state. We will also read pre-modern texts, from poetry to animal fables to philosophical fantasies, in which animals convey moral messages, reflect attitudes to nature and culture, and embody broader Islamic views on cosmology and the place of humans within the world. More broadly, the course aims to expand students’ knowledge of the different registers of literary Arabic, improve their ability to understand complex grammatical constructions, and develop their understanding of interpretive techniques. Set texts, excerpted from longer works and covered in each participatory seminar-style lecture, form the basis of the course content, and will be provided on Moodle. For pre-modern and contemporary works, students are expected to read the texts in full in translation, whenever possible.

2023/24 this course will also be taught by Professor Stefan Sperl

Form and Conduct

This paper is assessed by one coursework essay (of a maximum of 3000 words, and minimum of 2,500 words, including footnotes and excluding bibliography) and one commentary (of a maximum of 3,000 words, and minimum of 2,500 words, including footnotes and excluding bibliography), to be handed in on the Thursday of fourth week in Easter term. A choice of four essay questions and four passages for commentary will be announced on the Wednesday of eighth week in Lent term. One of the assignments must be on a pre-modern text and one assignment on a modern text. Both exercises carry equal marks.


This description is subject to change, for the latest information, students should consult the Undergraduate Handbook available on the Faculty Intranet.