SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Literatures of the Islamic Near and Middle East

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This is a team-taught module that introduces the different literary traditions of the Near and Middle East and provides an overview of what constitutes "literature" in the region's various pre-modern civilizations. Study is made of selected central topics of the literary traditions of the area from the ancient to the modern period. Through readings of texts in translation students are also introduced to different topics of literary-critical analysis. The content of the module varies slightly from year to year, depending on the specialisms of the available staff.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objective of this module is to allow students to appreciate and evaluate critically what constitutes “literature” in various civilizations of the Near and Middle East. Students are expected to obtain a clear understanding of the region, its diverse history and literatures, to acquire a good sense of the areas of expertise of the teachers, and to achieve an understanding of the scholarship, methodology and research issues that characterize the various fields of study. The overarching aim is not simply to end with an overview of the literatures of the NME. It is also to acquire a keen sense of the scholarly (areas of investigation and range of subjects) and academic (formation of fields and disciplines and relevant investigative methods) aspects of studying Middle Eastern literature. Through the close examination of selected topics and texts students develop an understanding of a variety of literary traditions within the Near East together with awareness that several of these traditions are frequently very closely connected to each other. This enables them to place their own studies in their different disciplines into the proper general context. It is expected that the module will encourage the student to pursue further studies in the fields/areas of their choice.


The module is taught two hours per week. Weekly lectures and reading classes are given by the respective specialists of the subjects covered.

Scope and syllabus

Where possible the programme follows a chronological progression. The first part deals with the ancient period and the second with the medieval. For every separate field (Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, etc.) the lectures focus on major and important works and their literary background and/or on trends and pertinent themes of the period. Representative selected works are studied in translation. A vital component of the module will be the illustration of the close relation of these literatures throughout the centuries. Attention is also given to possible continuities or discontinuities in the long history of Near Eastern literature.

Method of assessment

The module is assessed by coursework only. The coursework consists of four essays, as follows:

  • Essay 1: 1000 words (20%)
  • Essay 2: 1500 words (30%)
  • Essay 3: 1000 words (20%)
  • Essay 4: 1500 words (30%)

Suggested reading

Suggested Reading:
  • Alexander, Philip, S., ed., 1990. Textual Sources for the Study of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicage Press. 
  • Arberry, A. J., 1958. Classical Persian Literature. London 
  • Badawi, M. M., 1992. Modern Arabic Literature. Cambridge. 
  • Burnshaw, T. Carmi and E. Spicehandler, 1989. The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself. Cambridge, MA. 
  • Davis, Dick, 1992. The Legend of Seyavash. Translated With an Introduction and Notes by Dick Davis. London: Penguin. 
  • The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, 1983-1992. 4 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • George, Andrew, 1999. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Harmondsworth: Penguin 
  • Dalley, Stephanie, 1989. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford 
  • UP Foster, Benjamin R. 1993. Before the Muses. An Anthology of Akkadian Literature. Bethesda, Md: CDL Press
  • Foster, Benjamin R. 1995. From Distant Days. Myths, Tales and Poetry from Ancient Mesopotamia. Bethesda, Md: CDL Press 
  • Meisami, Julie, 1987. Medieval Persian Court Poetry. Princeton. 
  • Haddawy, Husain, trns., 1990. The Arabian Nights. Translated by Husain Haddawy. New York: Norton. 
  • Halman, Talat, ed. , 1991. Yunus Emre and his Mystical Poetry. Bloomington, Indiana University Turkish Studies. 
  • Irwin, Robert , 1994. The Arabian Nights, A Companion. London: Allen Lane. 
  • Lewis, Geoffrey, 1974. The Book of Dede Korkut. Translated With an Introduction by Geoffrey Lewis. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 
  • Ostle, R. C. ed., 1991. Modern Literature in the Near and Middle East. London: Routledge. 
  • Reichl, Karl, 1992. Turkic Oral Epic Poetry. Traditions, Forms, Poetic Structure. New York. Pp. 43-55. 
  • Rypka, Jan, 1968. History of Iranian Literature. Dordrecht. 
  • Smith, William Cantwel, 1995. What is Scripture? A Comparative Approach. Chapel Hill. 
  • Makal, Mahmut, 1954. A Village in Anatolia. Translated by Sir Wyndham Deedes. London: Valentine, 
  • Mitchell. Unterman, Alan, 1996. The Jews, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Sussex: Sussex Academic Press. 
  • Yascar Kemal, 1961. Memed, My Hawk. Translated by Edouard Roditi. London: Collins & Harvill Press. 
  • Yudkin, Leon, 1984. 1948 and After: Aspects of Israeli Fiction. Manchester. S
  • alih, Tayeb, 1976. Season of Migration to the North. Translated from the Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies. London: Heinemann Educational. 
  • Hutchins W. M., trns., 1987. Egyptian Tales and Short Stories. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press. 
  • Milani, Farzaneh, 1992. Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers. London.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules