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Samer Ali


Associate FacultyPh.D, Indiana University

Associate Professor in the College of Liberal Arts
Samer Ali

Contact

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

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

Biography


College: Liberal Arts

Home Department: Middle Eastern Studies

Additional department affiliations: Religious Studies, Comparative Literature


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

Courses


MEL 323 • Engaging The Middle East

40835 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM CAL 200

This is a capstone course for students majoring in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. Students will focus on a reseach issue or problem pertaining to the Middle East, and they will conduct a reserach project that will lead to a publishable paper. Students will develop skills in seaking and retrieving sources, in evalutaing the bias and credibility of sources, and in scholarly writing.

Texts

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, How to Lie with Statistics, a variety of readings on the MIddle East and scholarship on Blackboard or Canvas.

Grading

Participation 10%, Research Question 20%, Paper Proposal 30%, Research Paper 40%

C L 386 • Arabic In Europe

33990 • Fall 2014
Meets W 4:00PM-7:00PM CAL 200
(also listed as MES 386)

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%

ARA 384C • Arabo-Islamic Ode

41960 • Spring 2014
Meets W 4:00PM-7:00PM PAR 214

The Arabic ode (qasida) began at the dawn of the Arabic language and ran parallel to the history of Islamic empire building, enduring more than a millennium and a half, being practiced on three continents, and influencing parallel genres in Swahili, Fulfulde, Hausa, Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Malay. The impact of this genre on the world is probably unprecedented. Despite the influence of the Arabic ode genre on world literatures, the qasida remains one of the most misunderstood and understudied genres. 

This seminar is designed for graduate students in Arabic literature, linguistics, or history, who have three or more years of Arabic. No prior knowledge of the qasida is expected. Students will learn how to read and analyze this genre, using approaches from ritual, myth and performance theory. The goal of the seminar will be to perceive and analyze the genre's full range of character, form and functions, which included projecting power (fakhr, madih) and satirizing it (hija, mujun).  The following are some key issues: (1) Composition and Performance: How did a poet (sha'ir) compose a qasida? How did a transmitter (rawi) perform it? What impact did performer-audience interactions have on the text of the ode? (2) Genre and Society: How did poets and transmitters use the practices and norms of the genre to generate meaning? How were these poems performed in literary salons?  With so much new poetry composed every generation, why did a canon form? How did this qasida canon (memorized and performed by heart) stabilize linguistic shifts across time and place? Why was the qasida appealing, useful and needed for individuals, groups and dynasties?

Conducted primarily in Arabic.

ISL 373 • Intro To Arabic Literature

42190 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM PAR 305
(also listed as MEL 321, MES 342)

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%

ISL 373 • The Arabian Nights

42104 • Fall 2013
Meets MW 2:00PM-3:30PM RLM 6.104
(also listed as C L 323, MEL 321, MES 342)

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%.

ARA 382C • Arabic In Europe

41185 • Fall 2012
Meets T 5:00PM-8:00PM BEN 1.106

The "clash of civilizations" paradigm has promoted a vision of Arabic and European cultures that presumes an us-them dichotomy and imposes the language of segregation and incompatibility, which plays into the hands of fanatics. This graduate seminar focuses on the trans-Mediterranean as a zone of co-creative inter-connectivity, competition and cooperation going back to antiquity.  The purpose of this course is not to somehow "naturalize" Arabic culture by examining connections to blessed Europe. To the contrary, it is to fundamentally re-imagine the categories of "the West" and "the Arab," and to show how the concept of "civilization," with it implications of exclusive and coherent continuity, has limited utility as a unit of analysis, if you are researching opportunistic and promiscuous exchanges of the Med-zone, particularly in Andalusia and medieval Arabic Sicily. Students will also have the chance to examine French and English representations of "Saracens," the rise of Arabophilia and orientalism, plus the seismic reception of the _Arabian Nights_ in Europe. Conduced primarily in Arabic.

ARA 384C • Arab Women Poets

41250 • Spring 2012
Meets T 5:00PM-8:00PM MEZ 2.102
(also listed as MES 386)

To be provided by instructor.

C L 323 • The Arabian Nights

33765 • Spring 2012
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM GRG 102
(also listed as ARA 360K, ISL 372)

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.

MES 386 • Classical Arabic Ahkbar

41624 • Fall 2011
Meets T 5:00PM-8:00PM MEZ 1.206
(also listed as ARA 384C, C L 386)

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. 

WGS S340 • The Qur'An

89471 • Summer 2011
Meets MTWTHF 1:00PM-2:30PM SAC 5.102
(also listed as ARA S372, ISL S340, MES S320, R S S325G)

In this course, we will study the religion of Islam through its sacred text, the Qur’an. To this end, this course will entail extensive reading of the Qur’an itself, as well as of other texts. In our studies, we will focus on the following themes of the Qur’an: cosmology (eg God, human nature, satan, and the afterlife), ethical principles, ritual prescriptions, and legal injunctions. We will also examine some of the prominent symbols, images and rhetorical structures of the Qur’an. Through reading the prophetic narratives, we will have an opportunity to compare Qur’anic and Biblical accounts of the major prophets shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The syllabus also includes an inquiry into role of the Qur’an in Muslim devotion and as a medium for artistic expression. We will also discuss the tradition of interpretation (or “exegesis”), especially as it pertains to those verses that engender the most debate today: those surrounding politics, intercommunal (i.e. interreligious) relations, and gender. Prior knowledge of Islam is helpful but not required for this course.

ARA 360L • A Thousand And One Nights

41574 • Spring 2011
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM MEZ 1.206

This Arabic literature course will be taught in Arabic. The Thousand and One Nights remains perhaps the most famous piece of world literature. The Nights were first introduced to the west in the early 1700s and has inspired generations of storytellers, playwrights, musicians, dancers, television writers and filmmakers since on every continent. The most captivating aspects of the Nights lie in its heroine, Shahrazad, who saves the entire kingdom by healing a mad king with her stories about characters who change their circumstances and save lives with stories. The power of language to heal and transform remains an inspiration. This course will offer advanced students of Arabic an opportunity to read and discuss Shahrazad's frame-story as well as some of the most influential framed stories, such as Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sindbad, in Arabic. In addition, the course will expose students to methods of interpreting narrative in society, such as ritual theory, performance issues, ideas about impromptu composition, and transmission.

Grading Policy

Attendance/Discussion 30% Response Papers (best 6 of 8) 60% Oral Presentation in Arabic 10%

Texts

Alf Layla wa Layla (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Illmiyyah)

C L 382 • The Novel In Arabic

34035 • Spring 2011
Meets T 5:00PM-8:00PM BEN 1.106
(also listed as ARA 384C, MES 390)

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 2:00PM-3:30PM WAG 101
(also listed as ARA 322, ISL 372, MES 328)

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.

download

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.

download

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.

download

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.

download

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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