SOAS University of London

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

Arabic Critical Theory and Thought

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of a module, a student should be able to demonstrate a rounded knowledge and critical understanding of the major issues, disciplines and contexts relevant to the emergence and development of Arabic critical thought and theory.  S/he will have been introduced to the key works in the subject and become familiar with the terminology and language in Arabic critical discourses, and with the methods of analysis and argumentation as embodied in selected texts by leading authors. S/he will be able to relate theories and critical discourses to the contemporary cultural politics production of knowledge, especially in the field of literary studies. S/he will also acquire the critical tools to comprehend and analyse theory and critical discourses as well as the language to articulate the ways in which Arab theorists grappled with crucial epistemological questions through the prism of language and literature.


This module is taught over 20 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week, consisting of seminars.

Scope and syllabus

The objectives of the module are to provide a guided inquiry into the history and analytical methods of Arabic critical thought and theory as a necessary background to understanding literary and cultural texts from a perspective within the same intellectual tradition; to examine critically the range of issues and theories found in Arabic critical discourses on poetics, rhetoric, grammar, logic, argumentation, and in ‘theorizing’ spread across the disciplines of grammar, linguistics, theology and philosophy; to sharpen students’ awareness of the relationship between language and thought, and provide them with the necessary skills to relate the development of thought to cultural changes and intercultural exchanges.

Module readings and discussions are guided by, but not exhaustive of, or exclusive to, the following major topics:

  1. Tools of thought: grammar and logic
  2. Poetics and rhetoric in philosophy and the sciences of the Arabic language
  3. Inimitability of the Qur’an: theorizing the sacred language
  4. Theology of meaning
  5. Dialogism in Arabic linguistic theory
  6. Kalām and kalim: Arabic discourse analysis
  7. Metaphor as language practice
  8. Image, imagery and imagination
  9. The Literary imaginary
  10. Word, sound, and image: semiotics and semiology
  11. Metres, patterns and rhythms: theorizing poetry
  12. Language, literature and reality
  13. Modernity and modernization
  14. Gharīb and ‘ajīb: defamiliarization in language
  15. The logic of literature
  16. Language, literature and thought
  17. Gender in discourse
  18. Gender thinking
  19. Politicizing aesthetics
  20. Ethics of criticism

Method of assessment

One essay of 2,000 words to be submitted day 1, week 1, term 2 (30%); one essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (45%); one 15-minute oral presentation (10%); one textual analysis of 1,000 words (15%).

Suggested reading

  • Kamal Abu Deeb, Al-Jurjani’s Theory of Poetic Imagery (Warminster, 1979).
  • Mohammed Arkoun, Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers (Boulder, 1994).
  • Jabir ‘Asfur, Al-sura al-fanniya fi al-turath al-naqdi wa al-balaghi (Cairo, 1974).
  • Abu Zayd, Nasr Hamid, Rethinking the Qur’an: towards a humanistic hermeneutics (Utrecht, 2004).
  • Deborah Black, Logic and Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics in Medieval Arabic Philosophy (Leiden, 1990).
  • Issa J. Boullata, Trends and Issues in Contemporary Arab Thought (Albany, 1990).
  • Dimitri Gutas, Greek Philosophers in the Arabic Tradition (London, 2000).
  • Wolfhart Heinrichs, The Hand of the Northwind: Opinions on Metaphor and the Early Meaning of Isti‘ara in Arabic Poetics (Wiesbaden, 1977).
  • Muhammad ‘Abid Jabiri, Arab-Islamic Philosophy: a Contemporary Critique (Austin, 1999).
  • Elizabeth Kassab, Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspectives (2009).
  • Salim Kemal, The Philosophical Poetics of Alfarabi, Avicenna and Averroes: the Aristotelian Tradition (London, 2003).
  • Navid Kermani, Gott ist schoen: das aesthetische Erleben des Koran (Beck, 2000).
  • Margaret Larkin, The Theology of Meaning: ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani’s Theory of Discourse (New Haven, 1995).
  • Wen-chin Ouyang, Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture: The Making of Tradition (Edinburgh, 1997).
  • Suzanne P. Stetkevych, Abu Tammam and the Poetics of the ‘Abbasid Age (Leiden, 1991).
  • Jurj Tarabishi, Woman Against Her Sex: a Critique of Nawal el-Saadawi (London, 1988).
  • Geert Jan van Gelder and Marle Hammond, Takhyil: Texts vol. 1: The Imaginary in Classical Arabic Poetics (2008).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules