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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room 8/9, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Thursday, 27 February, 2020 - 17:15 to 18:30
Event organiser: 

MES Public Talks Seminar given by Dr Bruce Fudge, University of Geneva

In his famous work Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, the German philologist Erich Auerbach (1892-1957) posits the existence of two literary styles of representation in Western literature: the Homeric and the Biblical.

Expanding on Auerbach’s analysis, we might ask: Is there a “Qur’anic style”? Yes, there is, and it resembles biblical style in a number of ways: allusiveness, abruptness, being “fraught with background” and demanding interpretation, to name a few. The comparison brings out various similarities between Bible and Qur’an, well beyond the fact of treating the same biblical characters. It enables us to see aspects of the Qur’an that go unremarked in both Islamic exegesis and criticism, and in contemporary scholarship on the Qur’an’s literary qualities. Stephen Greenblatt said of Auerbach that he enabled us to “see features of the Bible that would be virtually impossible to detect did we not know the Odyssey,” and the comparative effort does the same for the Qur’an.

But the comparison also brings out fundamental differences between Biblical and Qur’anic styles. Auerbach had a very particular idea of what he meant by “reality”, and it had little to do with “realism”. Reality for Auerbach is not “just an empirical fact in or about the world, but an experience one has of the world. It is tied to moments of sublime intensity experienced, for the most part, in a tragic mode.” Here the Bible (and much of European literature) parts ways with the Qur’an, which has little or no interest in tragic experience. The comparison permits us to see what is truly distinctive about the Muslim scripture, and how fundamentally it differs from the sacred books of the other monotheisms.

Bruce Fudge is Professor of Arabic at the University of Geneva. Among his publications are Qur’anic Hermeneutics: al-Ṭabrisī and the Craft of Commentary (2011), A Hundred and One Nights (ed. and trans., 2016) and a number of articles on Qur’an interpretation and medieval and modern Arabic literature.

Dr Assef Ashraf: