Sheikh Zayed Book Award and Columbia University set to organise world’s largest conference on Arabic language and comparative studies

Abu Dhabi,

 The Sheikh Zayed Book Award at the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, part of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, announces that it will organise the world’s largest Arabic language and comparative studies conference in collaboration with the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS) at Columbia University in New York, USA. The conference on the ‘Foundations and Transformations of Arabic Literary Theory’ will be organised over two sessions in June and October next year.

The conference has been organised to address formative literary beginnings in Arabic and their evolution from pre-modern times to the present, examining in the process a number of issues related to Arabic literature, as well as exploring long-standing themes of Arabic literary theory to infer enduring concepts and terms. Notably, the conference will engage with the challenges of mapping, reconstructing and studying varied sets of Arabic literary theoretical frameworks from the pre-modern era up to the present and will address such modern literary trends as paradigm shifts in Arabic literary theory. Other topics on the conference’s agenda include classical and modern epistemic systems, the role of poetry, dialogue with Orientalism, Renaissance literary theory and criticism, the birth of the novel in its modern form, the emergence of Arabic narrative writing and storytelling, identity, digital and social media, and visual and spatial narratives. 

His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said: “Arabic literature in all its forms dates back thousands of years and remains a vital part of our living heritage, yet it remains under-explored in the academic world. Enhancing understanding and shining new light on the beauty and cultural expressiveness of our language is a deeply important aspect of DCT Abu Dhabi’s work across libraries, education and cultural initiatives. We are very pleased to support this landmark conference which will bring the greatest scholars, researchers and writers in the field together in dialogue and collaboration.”

His Excellency Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Chairman of the Arabic Language Centre and Secretary-General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, welcomed the development and said: “We are pleased with this agreement, which will enhance the profile of Sheikh Zayed Book Award on the international stage and highlight its contributions to the literary and cultural sector. Agreements at this level are of considerable strategic importance, owing to their role in promoting academic dialogue and collaboration between different actors in the field of culture around the world.”

“We are working to incentivise evidence-based research on literary theory in a manner that serves discourse and literary criticism, while factoring in the cultural context of literature,” His Excellency added.

Dr Muhsin al-Musawi, Professor of Middle East, South Asia and Africa Studies at Columbia University said: “The idea behind this conference is to stimulate rigorous participation in the theory and its flourishing in other cultures, with a focus on the Arabic literary theory as a well-documented movement involving a large number of linguists, critics and poets. The organisers strongly feel that such an endeavour is timely, not only because we now have many scholars around the world whose focus is on Arab scholarship, but also because Orientalists and Arabists have already initiated a number of philological paths that require exploration and deconstruction. Our aim is to organise the largest and richest conference in the field of Arabic language and comparative studies.”

The conference organisers announced the opening for submission of working papers for presentation at the conference, with those wishing to participate required to send abstracts of not more than 400 words by e-mail no later than 10 January 2021.

Prior to the launch of the conference, a virtual discussion session entitled ‘The Theory of Arab Literature: Prospects and Limits’ will be organised for 19 March 2021, and those wishing to follow it can register to confirm attendance. The first session of the conference will be organised in Reid Hall at the Columbia University Global Center in Paris between 14 and 17 June 2021, while the Columbia University campus in New York will host the second session of the conference from 14-17 October 2021. Given the global health conditions, the conference dates are subject to change.