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Dr. Wayne Rebhorn, Director 208 W. 21st St. Stop B5003, Austin, Tx 78712 • 512-471-1925

Samer Ali

Associate Professor Ph.D, Indiana University

Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies
Samer Ali

Contact

  • Phone: 512-475-6467
  • Office: CAL 408
  • Office Hours: Fall 2013: TW 330p-500p
  • Campus Mail Code: F9400

Biography

College: Liberal Arts

Home Department: Middle Eastern Studies

Additional department affiliations: Religious Studies, Ctr for European Studies, Medieval Studies


Education: PhD, Indiana University

Research interests:

Arabic Literature and culture: Abbasid culture (750-1258), Andalusian  (711-1492), Arabic Sicily (652-1189), Arabian Nights, women of the court, Arab women poets, folklore

Historiography of Early Islam: The oral performance of ancestral stories, the intersections of literature and history, narrative patterns in historical tales, performance and communication theories

Religion and Mythology: Pre- and early Islamic religion and mythology, the Qur’an, sacred kingship, cults of the hero

Educational and Cultural Exchange: I moderate several email lists that support study and scholarship in the Middle East, including Cairo Scholars
https://utlists.utexas.edu/sympa/info/cairoscholars

 

Courses taught:

Undergraduate: Intro to Arabic Literature (lecture), The Arabian Nights (lecture), The Pursuit of Happiness (lecture)

Graduate Seminars (in Arabic): Arabo Women Poets, Arabic Culture in Sicily 652-1189, Arabo-Islamic Ode, Classical Arabic Akhbar, Politics of Court Literature

Interests

Islamic kingship, court literature and patronage, classical historiography, modern and medieval folklore and folklife, Arab women poets, oral performance of Homeric epic, literary criticism

C L 386 • Arabic In Europe

33990 • Fall 2014
Meets W 400pm-700pm CAL 200
(also listed as MDV 392M, MEL 381, MES 386 )
show description

The "clash of civilizations" theory has promoted a narrative about Arabic and European cultures that presumes on us-them binary and imposes the language of segregation and incompatibility, which befits fanatics. That narrative has permeated foreign policy realms, as well as scholarship on the Middle East, particularly the Islamic Middle Ages. This graduate seminar focuses on the trans-mediterranean as a zone of creative interconnection, competition and exchange going back to antiquity. We focus on Andalusia and the reception of Arabic culrture in other parts of Euope and examine the myriad ways that "Arabic" and "Europe" are intermeshed. This course is conducted in English and requires NO Arabic. Students with a command of Arabic, Hebrew and/or Persian -- I encourage you to use those skills. The issues of "contamination" and "other" extend to those languages/cultures as well. -- Students with a command of Spanish are also welcome to use those skills.

Texts

Menocal, "Pride and Prejudice in Medival Studies" and Shards of Love; Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge, Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony; Ali, Arabic Literary Salons in the Islamic Middle Ages; Makdisi The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West and The Rise of the Colleges.

Grading

Collegiality/Discussion 10% Oral Presentation on Term Paper (in English) 10% Questions on Primary Readings via Bb 20% Analysis of Secondary Sources 10% Analysis of Primary Sources 20% Term Paper on Poetry (in English, ~ 15pp.) 30%

C L 323 • The Arabian Nights

34033 • Fall 2013
Meets MW 200pm-330pm RLM 6.104
(also listed as ISL 373, MEL 321, MES 342 )
show description

This course provides students an introduction to the Arabian Nights in English translation. The Arabian Nights [i.e., The 1001 Nights] is perhaps the most visible piece of world literature, and the most example of Arabic literature in the West. The frame story centers on Shahrazad who tells stories to save her life from the hands of the deranged King, Shahzaman. The narrative brings fear, madness and sex under the same roof giving the frame story – and every story – an exquisite dramatic intensity. Students will have an opportunity to read and discuss major stories on a regular basis and identify the structure of narratives and the social functions of storytellers. We will also explore one of the major functions of those stories: to expose and redress built in tensions in society, such as the tension between individual desires and society’s expectations, as well as the need for heroes but the love of equality. In addition, we will focus on medieval religious beliefs toward sacred kings, saints, death, madness, and love as they emerge in the imaginative world of the nights. The course will end with a glimpse of how the Nights was used by Western authors, such as Boccaccio, Irwin, Borges and E. A. Poe. 

Texts

Dawood, Tales form the Thousand and One Nights, Haddawy, The Arabian Nights, Irwin, A Companion, Poe, The Thousand-And-Second Tale of Scherherazade, Borges, The Thousand and One Nights.

Grading

In Class Participation 20%, 6 BB Questions 20%, Response papers (best 6 of 7) 40%, Analysis paper 20%.

C L 323 • The Arabian Nights

33765 • Spring 2012
Meets TTH 330pm-500pm GRG 102
(also listed as ARA 360K, ISL 372 )
show description

Course Description

The Arabian Nights [i.e., The 1001 Nights] is perhaps the most visible piece of world literature, and probably the most famous example of Arabic literature in the West. This course provides students an introduction to the Arabian Nights in translation. The narrative brings fear, madness and sex under the same roof giving the frame story – and every story – an exquisite dramatic intensity. Students will have an opportunity to read and discuss major stories on a regular basis and identify the structure of narratives and the social functions of storytellers. In addition, we will focus on medieval Arabic literary attitudes toward death, magic, madness, and love as they emerge in the imaginative world of the Nights. Because of the Nights' tension between the sacred and the profane, students will also explore the ways that the stories critique orthodox Islamic beliefs and practices. The course will end with a glimpse of at how the Nights was used by Western authors, such as Boccaccio, Irwin, Barth and E. A. Poe. 

 

Texts & Grading

To be provided by instructor.

C L 386 • Classical Arabic Ahkbar

33667 • Fall 2011
Meets T 500pm-800pm MEZ 1.206
(also listed as ARA 384C, MES 386 )
show description

This course is a colloquium for PhD students with an advanced knowledge of Arabic. It will focus on medieval Arabic narrative and storytelling. This course will examine classical Arabic prose from the perspective of the individual Akhbar or story, which was the basic unit of knowledge for all humanities (adab) works, be they history (tarikh), geography (buldan), zoology (hayawan), cosmology (makhluqat), or anthropology (al-umam wal-nas). We will examine a wide variety of akhbar and the performance venues, such as literary salons (mujalasat) in homes, libraries, monasteries, gardens and courts. Because of this complexity of face-to-face performance aided by written manuscripts, the course will inevitably investigate how the interplay of oral and written modes of literary communication helped to form a new cultural knowledge. Taught in Arabic. 

 

Texts

To be provided by instructor. 

 

Grading

To be provided by instructor. 

C L 382 • The Novel In Arabic

34035 • Spring 2011
Meets T 500pm-800pm BEN 1.106
(also listed as ARA 384C, MES 390 )
show description

Course Description

This is a graduate seminar designed to give students of Arabic, Religious Studies and Comparative Literature a broad survey of major novelistic texts in Arabic, with comparisons of novelistic narratives from around the Mediterranean, including Italian, French and Spanish. While Arabic is essential to the course, students are encouraged to work in other languages they know. Theoretical works will receive secondary importance because of time and course priorities, thus students will gain extensive exposure to primary texts of novels and their narrative precursors.

The goal of this course is to re-conceive Eurocentric triumphalist meanings of “genre” and “novel” and to posit local nodes of meaning in a trans-Mediterranean network of artistry. By doing so, we can begin to appreciate how the works of trans-Mediterranean artists gain authority and authenticity not from cultural isolation or purity, but from unfettered exchange with other nodes of production and meaning. To do so, we will read selections from The 1001 Nights, Hayy b. Yaqzan, Tayf al-Khayal, Tarikh al-Tabari, Muruj al-Dhahab, and Maqamat al-Hariri, Gesta Romanorum, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Queen Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and examine the ways that these narratives inter-activate one another and serve as mimetic resources for later storytellers and novelists on both sides of the Mediterranean spurring competitive artistry in extended plot structures, characters complexity, critiques of society and dogmas, and the multi-vocal plurality of the modern novel.

Prerequisites: Graduate Standing and ARA 320L, 420L and 120D, or 531L.

Requirements: Weekly readings and writing assignments. Weekly discussions in Arabic, class participation, and four essays (3pp).

Grading: Four Essays 60%, Writing Assignments 20%, Discussion 20%

Text: Selections from The 1001 Nights, Hayy b. Yaqzan, Tayf al-Khayal, Tarikh al-Tabari, Muruj al-Dhahab, and Maqamat al-Hariri, Gesta Romanorum, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Queen Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Muwaylihi’s Hadith Isa Ibn Hisham, Haykal’s Zaynab.

C L 323 • Intro To Arabic Literature

32915 • Fall 2010
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm WAG 101
(also listed as ARA 322, ISL 372, MES 328 )
show description

This course is a survey of Arabic literature from the pre-Islamic (5th century) era to the mod-ern times. It will provide students with a basic introduction to literature in the Arabic language produced by many ethnicities. Students will discover sixteen hundred years of poetry, bal-lads, essays, & stories in translation. We will focus on literature that is both classical & modern, urban & rural, courtly & folk, as well as religious & secular. Students will study Arabic literature within the context of social life. Literature in Arab society was not only read, it was memorized for public recitation as part of a long tradition of ritual performance & story-telling. Students will gain an understanding of the literary work, not as simple object of art, but as a communication between people, which makes it a "cultural practice" that both reflects & shapes Arab society. Students are encouraged to engage literature fully in comparison with other works in world literature.

 

Texts:

Night and Horses and The Desert; Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes; Approaching the Qur'an; Poems of Arab Andalusia; Tales from a Thousand & One Nights. Season of Migration to the North Kanafani, G. Men in the Sun

 

Grading:

Attendance/Participation  20%

Response Papers  20%

First Paper  30%

Second Paper  30%

 

Publications

Ali.S. 2008.

The Rise of the Abbasid Public Sphere: The Case of al-Mutanabbi and Three Middle Ranking Patrons. Al-Qantara: Special Issue on Patronage in Islamic History. Vol. 29, no. 2. Edited by Esperanza Alfonso Carro. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto "Miguel Asín," pp. 467-494.

 

The tenth century in Iraq and Syria saw an unprecedented rise in the number of canonical poets who were delivering glorious praise hymns (madih) to middling members of society. Scholars have posed many theories in the past 30 years to explain the function and purpose of praise hymns for royalty and rulers, but why would ordinary men who had no hope of rulership pay painful sums to commission praise hymns in their favor? This article examines the emergence of a new kind of sociability and patronage in the tenth century that enabled middling people to form alliances and exercise influence in shaping ideals of government, leadership and manhood. Examples are given of poems to patrons of middle rank who gain glory and influence via the artistic endorsement of al-Mutanabbi (d. 965): The first ode restores the public dignity of a nineteen-year-old soldier who lost his face in battle; in the second ode, the poet glorifies and defends a state clerk who had little-known Sufi leanings; in the third ode, the poet vindicates an unmasked pseudo- Muslim who was in private a Christian. Using J. Habermas’s theory of the “Public Sphere,” I show the way these odes illustrate how middling members of society gained influence in a public sphere of participation and took measures to preserve that influence.

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Ali.S. 2008.

Early Islam-Monotheism or Henotheism? A View from the Court. Journal of Arabic Literature. Vol. 39, no. 1. Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 14-37

 

This article employs sources produced by people who worked at the Abbasid court in order to expose a tension in early Islamic society between two systems of sacrility. An emerging monotheism was promoted by pious elders (mashāyikh) and ascetics (nussāk), which gave power and authority to one absolute deity, Allāh. Th e court, and most members of society, favored an older system, henotheism, which championed the sacrility of leadership archetypes, the king, sultan, saint, and master-teacher, while tolerating the emerging new sacredness of the One. The latter system enjoyed familiarity since ancient times in the Near East and vested nearly all leadership roles in society with a measure of sacred power and authority, hence adding to the stability of Abbasid hierarchy. Here, I examine three major practices at the court for generating sacrility, including praise hymns (madīḥ) in honor of great men, palace space-usage and architecture, as well as bacchic culture, which all privileged the caliph and his subordinates. The implications of symbol usage extend far beyond the court since underlings appropriated it in seeking rank and status by emulating their superiors.

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Ali.S. 2006.

Singing Samarra (861-956): Poetry and the Burgeoning of Historiography upon the Murder of al-Mutawakkil. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Vol. 6. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 1-23

 

Historiography on the patricide/regicide of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861) developed from a stage of simple description to a burgeoning of mytho-historical narrative. It would appear that what began as a palace scandal—profaning to a putatively sacral community already torn by civil war—developed into a redemptive tragedy with perennial appeal. In a patronage society governed by loyalty to one’s patron or father, this transformation should count as nothing less than conspicuous. This article examines the role of a major Abbasid poet, al-Buḥturī (d. 897), in shaping public perception by cultivating genuine sympathy for the Abbasids and planting the seeds of questions that would be addressed in historical narratives. In particular, I discuss the importance of literary salons or gatherings as a social institution where poetry and historical narratives were recited orally as a means of transmitting knowledge to future generations. These gatherings provide a likely forum where mythic questions of poetry could inspire narrative.

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Ali.S. 2006.

Reinterpreting al-Buhturi's Iwan Kisra Ode: Tears of Affection for the Cycles of History. Journal of Arabic Literature. Vol. 37, no. 1. Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 46-67

 

The poet al-Buhturi (d. 897) composed a deeply disturbing ode in mid-career, dubbed the Iwan Kisra Ode. Scholars have conventionally interpreted the Iwan Kisra Ode as an anti-imperial ode critical of the Abbasids in a time of decline evinced by the murder of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861) and the emerging power of the Turkic guards at Samarra. This article re-examines al-Buhturi’s own motives to demonstrate that an anti-imperial ode would be anathema to his interests and posits an alternative interpretation. The analysis is based on extensive Abbasid lore and a close reading of the ode. It suggests that the ode had the effect of redeeming the Abbasids in order to avoid civil strife in a time of danger.

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Ali.S. 2004.

            Praise for Murder?: Two Odes by al-Buhturi surrounding an Abbasid Patricide. In Writers

            and Rulers: Perspectives on Their Relation from Abbasid to Safavid Times (Vol. 16 in Series

            Literaturen im Kontext: Arabisch - Persisch – Turkisch). Ed. Beatrice Gruendler and Louise

            Marlow. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert, pp. 1-38

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