adab bios and abstracts 2

Anna Ziajka Stanton

Anna Ziajka Stanton is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic Literature at The Pennsylvania State University. Her current book project interrogates the multivalent processes of her own translation praxis to open up a critical zone for rethinking the figure of the Arabic/English translator, present and past, through the theoretical intersections of ethics, affects, and philosophies of embodied reading. She is also interested in mapping how 21st-century Arabic literary prizes are reshaping the ways that contemporary Arabic novels emerge into, and circulate within, today’s world literary marketplace. Publications include “A Whole Imaginary World: The Incomparable Fiction of Waguih Ghali” in the Journal of Arabic Literature (2015) and the English translation of Lebanese author Hilal Chouman’s novel Limbo Beirut (2016).


Adab as Theory: Toward a Corporeal Ethos of Reading

This conference asks us to theorize adab in its many permutations and usages, trans-historically and in full recognition of its interdisciplinary assemblages as a word that conjoins literature and manners, the poetic and the ethical. To bring theory and adab into conversation in this way generates new possibilities not only for the study of the latter, but for literary theory as a set of critical apparatuses figured to help us think literature within a variety of philosophical and formal frameworks. If adab could be refashioned as a theoretical hinge for exposing certain previously overlooked elements of literary texts and the routes through which they circulate, what would it reveal? What new epistemological constellations would be rendered intelligible through the induction of this Arabic signifier into the canon of literary theoretical terminology? To consider a text as adab, I propose, is to explore how this text operates at the boundaries between literature and proper comportment, between the aesthetic and the affective. Thus unsettling the division between the linguistic and the physical, a theory of adab invites us to attend to how a singular work of fiction habituates the reader into modes of being and behaving that enact ethics through embodied practices, à la the Aristotelian notion of ἦθος (ethics) as human potentiality materialized in certain (correct) human activities. Moving away from the equation of taʾdīb with tahdhīb (educating, refining), “adabization” (taʾdīb) is recast as a mode of becoming receptive to the ethical possibilities that literature offers, not as part of a civilizing project of intellectual cultivation but as a series of irreducibly corporeal events that a theory of adab interrogates and makes visible.

Suzanne Stetkevych

Suzanne Stetkevych (Sultan Qaboos bin Said professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies, Georgetown University) is a specialist in classical Arabic literature. She holds an AB from Wellesley College and PhD from The University of Chicago. Her research, which has been supported by Fulbright, NEH, SSRC, ACOR and ARCE, focuses primarily on myth, ritual, ceremony and performance in the Arabic ode and ranges from the pre-Islamic through the neo-classical period. Her books include Abu Tammam and the Poetics of the Abbasid Age; The Mute Immortals Speak: Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual; The Poetics of Islamic Legitimacy: Myth, Gender and Ceremony in the Classical Arabic Ode; and The Mantle Odes: Praise Poems to the Prophet Muḥammad in the Arabic Tradition. She is currently working on a book on: Authority and Authenticity: The Two Poetry Diwans of Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī: Saqṭ al-Zand and Al-Luzumiyyat.


From Umayyad History to Abbasid Biography: Variation, Invention, and the Archeology of an Adab Text

The base text for this study is an account of the Umayyad excavations for the construction of the Great Mosque of Damascus, which tells of the unearthing of an ancient temple with a mysterious inscription from its long-lost builder. The paper proposes to explore the genesis and interpretation of this adab text as it migrates from one literary context to another, from a biographical notice on a celebrated poet and linguist, al-Maʿarrī, to a historical-geographical entry on a famous city, Damascus.

This account first occurs in a notice (tarjamah) on the renowned Abbasid poet, literature and linguist, Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 973/1058) in Jalāl al-Dīn Ibn al-Qifṭī’s (d. 646/1248) biographical dictionary of grammarians, Inbāh al-Ruwāh ʿalā Anbāh al-Nuḥāh. There, the account of the Umayyad excavations is recounted in the presence of the blind skeptic, al-Maʿarrī, from whom it elicits an apparently spontaneous and highly ironic poetic response. A virtually identical account—but lacking any reference to al-Maʿarrī--appears in Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī’s (d. 626/1229) geographical compendium, Muʿjam al-Buldān, where it is attributed solely to Ibn al-Qifṭī. It occurs in the Dimashq (Damascus) entry, after the more familiar and historically attested account of al-Walīd’s building the Umayyad Mosque on the site of the Church of John the Baptist.

The study then turns to earlier, cognate and variant historical accounts, from early histories up through Mamluk-era literary compendia. It concludes by extracting and addressing issues essential to our understanding of adab in the Arabic literary tradition. What is the origin of these texts—are they grounded in actual historical events? How are we to explain the blatant anachronisms? The striking repetition of identical motifs or topoi in different historical settings? The cooptation of accounts originally conceived of as “historical” to serve political, ideological or literary critical purposes? How should we categorize, both aesthetically and conceptually, these texts that clearly do not fit under our altogether inadequate categories of “fact” and “fiction”?

Sahar Ishtiaque Ullah

Sahar Ishtiaque Ullah is a PhD candidate of Arabic and Comparative Literature and a Public Humanities Fellow for Humanities New York. She is currently completing her dissertation “The Amatory Prelude in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Poetics." She also has research interests in representations of Islam and Muslims in early modern European literature and representations of the classical in modern Arabic literature. A Literature Humanities Core Preceptor Teaching Award Recipient, Sahar is also a Senior Lead Teaching Fellow at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Columbia University.


In Homage of Adab and the Adīb: al-Ṣafadī’s Introduction to Lāmiyyat al-ʿAjam

The introductions to medieval Arabic texts have often been treated as formulaic embellishment that is not particularly meaning generating but reflective of a conventional structure inherited from a literary tradition. On the other hand, fourteenth century Arabic-Islamic rhetoricians understood that how a statement or verse is expressed has implications for the meanings of the text. Thus, they considered the prolegomena to be literarily significant for both poetry and prose. Arabic-Islamic literary theory significantly impacted the style of pre-modern prolegomena across disciplines of literature. In this paper, I will consider the intersection of the fourteenth century Mamluk biographer, critic, and litterateur Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Khalīl ibn Aybak al-Ṣafadī’s (d. 1362) introduction to his commentary Al-Ghayth Al-Musajjam fī Shar Lāmiyat Al-`Ajam with the concept of “ingenious beginnings” as conceptualized by the poet-rhetorician Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Ḥillī’s (d. 1350) poem’s Al-Kāfiyyah Al-Badī’iyya. Specifically, I will address how Al-Ṣafadī as a writer constructs through his style of praising adab and the adīb the lens through which he wants his audience to understand the significance of his contribution and his legitimacy as a commentator. By doing so, Al-Ṣafadī deploys the introduction of his work as a space of rhetorical performance while conveying the themes of the text demonstrating his familiarity with the discipline of rhetoric and its sub-discipline`ilm al-badī’ encapsulated by al-Ḥillī.

George Warner

George Warner studied Arabic and Islamic studies at Cambridge University and in Damascus and has recently completed his PhD at SOAS, where he currently teaches the history of Shi’i Islam. His interests include Shi’ism and sectarianism, Arabic and Persian literature (particularly compilation studies), and hadith.


Perfect Speech: Adab as Sectarian Polemic in the Buwayhid Era

Home to many titans of adab literature, the Buwayhid intellectual context also houses intense sectarian dispute. While these two aspects are usually treated separately, this paper will examine their extensive interdependence. In Buwayid adab compendia we find not only recurring registers of inter-sectarian argument, but also efforts by author-compilers to claim ownership of the wealth of adab discourse for their own group. This engenders not only significant, even defining imprints of such disputes on adab literature, but a simultaneous penetration of adab literature’s forms and priorities into canonical works of doctrine.

This paper takes as its starting point two adab compendia of the period: the Shāfiʿī Sunnī al-Māwardī’s Adab al-dunyā wa’l-dīn and the Imāmī Shīʿī al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾid. Both seminal figures in their respective legal-theological traditions, both scholars attempt in these works to negotiate between the usual polyphonous curiosity of the adab compendium, their sources ranging from Abū Bakr to Buzurjmihr, and a shared sectarian concern to routinize authority in a strictly demarcated set of sources. Though called a compendium, al-Māwardī’s work is dominated by his own voice, the book’s colourful array of gobbets subordinated to his own exacting definitions of the concepts that they illustrate and thus, ultimately, to the authority of the qualified scholar. Al-Murtaḍā, meanwhile, is often to be found digressing into assertions of the (sometimes improbable) Shīʿī credentials of his sources, and meanwhile arguing that such wisdom as he narrates from them has nothing to add to that of the imāms. His efforts are reflected in his brother al-Sharīf al-Raḍī’s Nahj al-balāgha, a work in which we see not a collection of ḥadīth as repositories of doctrine but an attempt at an adab compendium composed solely of the imām’s inspired speech.