Monthly Archives: December 2013

Enlightenment

 

Check out this interview with German scholar Angelika Neuwirth on enlightenment in Arabic and Islamic cultures !

Some highlights:

  • On Enlightenment: “The claim that Islam lacks an Enlightenment is an age-old cliché. Pride in the Enlightenment–even though this pride has died down somewhat–continues to lead people to believe that Western Culture is way ahead of Islam.”
  • On the status of women: “…the Koran is not a reference work for social behaviour…The Koran was a proclamation to people who were familiar with other norms and were willing to call these norms into question…the Koran takes a revolutionary step forward: it puts woman on the same level as man before God.”
  • On language in the Qur’an: “While it might be possible to sum up the mere information in the Koran in a short newspaper article, the effect would not have been the same. It really is about enchantment through language. Language itself is also praised in the Koran as the highest gift that humankind received from God…Language is the medium of knowledge…The entire Koran is basically a paean to knowledge…”

There’s also a lecture by Angelika Neuwirth available online:

Literature

My academic training is in Arabic literature. By literature, I don’t mean written materials alone. I mean instead the manipulation of language in all of its various forms (whether stories, poems, rhymes, etc.) to reach an audience–expressing feelings, communicating experiences, asking questions, offering advice, and so on.

When I first studied in Morocco, I had to reevaluate my own definition of literature. Having grown up in a very bookish anglophone family, it took some adjustment to understand how people can live quite fully without any great use of books in their lives. The book lovers were few and far between, and yet most people enjoyed some kind of art. Being a fan of myths and fantasy, I found myself searching for stories in Morocco. People didn’t necessarily understand my quest, offering me instead music, dance, or poetry. I came to the conclusion that the role that books tend to play in the United States is filled by a variety of related arts in Morocco and throughout Arabic and some other cultures.

I went to graduate school and studied Arabic literature, in a variety of forms, for almost a decade. My studies included prestigious Arabic classical literature (such as Jahili poetry, the Qur’an and early Islamic texts, the maqamat and akhbar, medieval literary criticism, and philosophy). I felt particularly compelled to study examples of oral and folk literature as well (such as the historical epics, tales of the trickster Juha, and traditions of public storytelling and poetic performances). My studies also included an introduction to Hebrew language and medieval Hebrew literature. This site is a place for the culmination of my studies to share what I’ve learned and to provide a resource for others.