SOAS University of London

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

Social and Political Dimensions of Modern Arabic Literature

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

The module presents a broad survey of modern Arabic literature through a range of selected texts from the 18th century right up to the ‘Arab Spring’ and its debated aftermath. The works are studied as literature but with constant reference to the social and political contexts in which they were written, and a constant questioning of the shifting designations of ‘modern,’ ‘Arabic’ and ‘Literature.’ Attention will be paid to the process of socio-political and cultural change and to the effects produced by ideological transition on theme, form and language.

Students are encouraged to attend lectures and seminars organised by the AHRB Centre for Asian and African Literature and the London Middle East Institute.


The module is a major or minor option in MA Arabic Literature and an optional component of MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies and MA Comparative Literature, and compliments degree programs in Postcolonial Studies as well as Cultural Studies. MA Arabic Literature candidates will be expected to be able to read and understand modern Arabic texts and to consult reference material in Arabic. Otherwise, all assigned Arabic works and critical sources will be read in English translation and seminars will be conducted in English. All students will be trained in the various methods of close reading and critical analysis as well as in the understanding and application of the literary terms and analytic tools relevant to critical discourses and ideological debates in the history of Arabic literary criticism

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students will be familiar in general terms with the range of themes, techniques and genres to be found in Modern and Contemporary Arabic literature and will have been introduced to the principal critical works on the subject. The objective of the module is to introduce students to the richest and most rewarding areas of Arabic Literature, as well as to current trends in scholarship. These are both related to the processes of change and search for personal and cultural identity on the literary level to the projects of change in the political and social spheres.

The ultimate aim is to sharpen students’ awareness of the significance of literature to the understanding of vital cultural, social and political processes, and especially to the quest for ‘modernity’ and ‘modernization’ in Arab societies—an aim that is critiqued and unpacked throughout the two semesters.

Students are expected to be able to apply a range of critical theories to the literature in question. In class and through essays we will engage with a variety of critical theory that will help students to ask insightful questions of both text, context, and culture. Coursework will help develop the ability to use these skills in writing, presentation, and discussion.


This module will be taught over 20 weeks with 2-hour seminars per week.

The two hours each week are devoted to close reading of texts, discussion of aspects of language, structure, imagery, rhythm and some formal lecturing on the more general aspects of the subject, especially on the relation of literature to the wider cultural, political and social contexts.

Students’ participation is vital as they are expected to prepare texts in advance of lectures and to be able to provide initial impressions and insights and to discuss and substantiate them in class. Most readings will be available on the online course platform, with a reading list of works available in the library handed out at the beginning of the year. Further reading will be made available both online and in the SOAS library.

Scope and syllabus

The main themes and periods covered are:

  • Notions of the Modern
  • Questions of text and authority
  • Genre and translation
  • The Neo-Classical revival
  • The Rise of Fiction
  • Rationalism and colonization
  • Nationalism and the nation state
  • Realism, Social Polarization, and the Aftermath of 1948
  • Revolution in Literature and Society in the 1950s
  • 1967 and after: Modernism and Post-Modernism
  • Sub-genre fiction: Scifi, detective novels and experimentation
  • Theatre and the absurd
  • Dystopia and categorization

General Areas for Expansion:

  • Constructions of gender and sexuality
  • Notions of self and other
  • Traditions of textuality

Method of assessment

One essay of 2000 words to be submitted on Monday, week 1, term 2 (30%); one essay of 3000 words to be submitted on Monday, week 1, term 3 (45%); one oral presentation of 15 minutes (10%); one textual analysis of 1000 words (15%).

Suggested reading

  • Muhammad Al-Muwilihi, Hadith '¡sa Ibn Hisham
  • Muhamad Husain Haykal, Zaynab
  • Tawfiq Al-Hakim, 'Awdat Al-Rawh and Al-Sulflan al-Ha'ir
  • Jurji Zeidan
  • Ahmad Faris Shidqaq
  • Yahya Haqqi, Qindil 'Umm Hashim
  • Najib Mahfuz, The Trilogy and Awlad Haratina
  • Tawfiq Yusuf 'Awwad, Al-Raghif or Tawahin Bieru
  • Ghasan Kanafani, Rijal fi-l-Shams
  • Fu'ad Al-Takarli, Al-Raj' al-Ba'id
  • Mahmud Darwish
  • Zakariyya Tamir (selected short stories)
  • Sa'dallah Wannus, Haflat Samar and Al-Fil Ya Malik al-Zaman
  • Mustafa Mahmoud
  • Yusuf Idris (selected short stories) and al-Farafir
  • Assia Djebar
  • Etel Adnan
  • Al-Tayyib Salih, Mawsim al-Hijra ila-l-Shamal
  • Ibrahim Nasrallah, Aʻrās āminah
  • Haifa Zangana, Fī arwiqat al-dhākirah
  • Muhammad Rabie, ʻUṭārid

Background reading:

  • Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim A. Arab Rediscovery of Europe (Princeton, 1963)
  • Al-Biheiry, K. A.: L'Influence de la literature francaise sur le roman Arabe (1980)
  • Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt (Cambridge, 1987)
  • Abdel Wahab, Farouq (ed.): Modern Egyptian Drama (Minneapolis, 1974)
  • Allen, Roger: The Arabic Novel: An Historical Introduction (Manchester, 1982)
  • Antonius, George: The Arab Awakening (London, 1938)
  • Ashcroft, B. & Griffiths, G.: The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995)
  • Badawi, M. M.: Modern Arabic Literature (Cambridge, 1995)
  • Badr, Abd al-Muhsin Taha: Tatawwur al-Riwaya al-Misriyya (Cairo, 1963)
  • Bakhtin, M. M.: Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (Manchester, 1984) & The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1981)
  • Barthes, Roland: Image, Music, Text (New York, 1977)
  • Brugman, J.: An Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature (Leiden, 1984)
  • Bullata, I. (ed.): Critical Perspective on Modern Arabic Literature (New York, 1980)
  • Chambers, I. & Curti, L.: The Post-Colonial Question (1996)
  • Chatman, Seymour: Story and Discourse (Ithaca, 1978)
  • Colla, Elliott. Conflicted Antiquities (Durham, 2007).
  • Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry (Cambridge, 1975).
  • Genette, Gérard: Narrative Discourse (Oxford, 1979)
  • Hafez, Sabry: The Genesis of Arabic Narrative Discourse: A Study in the Sociology of Modern Arabic Literature (London, Saqi Books, 1993)
  • Haqqi, Yahya: Fajr al-Qissa al-Misriyya (Cairo, 1960)
  • Holt, Elizabeth M. Fictitious Capital (New York, 2017)
  • Hourani, Albert: Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Oxford, 1962)
  • Jad, Ali: Form and Technique in the Egyptian Novel: 1912- 1971 (London, 1983)
  • Jameson, Frederic. A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present (London, 2014).
  • Kilpatrick, Hilary: The Modern Egyptian Novel (London, 1974)
  • Mangia, P.: Contemporary Post-Colonial Theory (1996)
  • Martin, Wallace: Recent Theories of Narrative (Ithaca, 1986)
  • Mitchell, Timothy. Colonizing Egypt (Cambridge, 1988)
  • Modern Literature in the Near and Middle East, (London, 1991).
  • Moosa, Matti: The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction (Washington, 1983)
  • Ostle, R. C. (ed.): Studies in Modern Arabic Literature (London, 1975)
  • Said, Edward: Beginnings (1985) & The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983)
  • Williams, P. & Chrisman, L.: Colonial Discourse & Post-Colonial Theory (1993)
  • Writing the Self: Autobiographical Writing in MAL (eds.) (London, 1998) 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules