SOAS University of London

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

Professor Stefan Sperl

BA (Oxon), PhD (London)
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Expertise
  • Publications


Sperl Stefan
Near and Middle East Section, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Professorial Research Associate

Professor Stefan Sperl
Email address:
+44(0) 20 7898 4338
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Academic Support Hours:
On Sabbatical until September 2018


Stefan Sperl was born in Stuttgart and brought up in Luxembourg.  He studied Arabic at Oxford and the American University in Cairo and did his postgraduate research at SOAS.  In 1978 he joined UNHCR and held several assignments in the Middle East and Geneva.  He returned to SOAS 1988.  His publications include Mannerism in Arabic Poetry (1989), Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia & Africa (1996, with Christopher Shackle), as well as numerous articles on Arabic, Islamic and Refugee Studies.  In 2005 he embarked on a research project with Ahmed Moustafa which resulted in their joint publication The Cosmic Script: Sacred Geometry and the Science of Arabic Penmanship (2014).  It won the Iran World Award for the Book of the Year in 2016.


PhD Theses Supervised
  • Mohammad Abd Allah Abd al-Rahman, A Critical Edition of al-Ḥāṣir li-Fawāʾid al-Muqaddima li-Ṭāhir by ʿImād al-Islam Yaḥyā Ibn Ḥamza (669-750 AH), 1995.
  • Rabab Hamiduddin, The Qaṣīda of the Ṭayyibī Daʿwa and the Dīwān of Syedna ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Walīd, 2000.
  • Helen Blatherwick, Prophets, Gods and Kings: Islamic, Egyptian and Persian Cultural Strands in Sīrat Sayf Ibn Dhī Yazan, 2002, revised and published as Prophets, Gods and Kings in Sīrat Sayf Ibn Dhī Yazan: An Intertextual Reading of an Egyptian Popular Epic, Brill, Leiden, 2016.
  • Makram Khoury-Machool, The Arab Press in Israel 1948-1968: Israeli Cultural Hegemony and Palestinian Nationalist and Communist Counter-Hegemony, 2002.
  • Nouha Khalifa, The Art of Narration in al-Tanūkhī’s Compilations, 2003; revised and published as Hardship and Deliverance in the Islamic Tradition: Theology and Spirituality in the Works of al-Tanūkhī, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010.
  • Raja Lahiani, Eastern Luminaries Disclosed to Western Eyes: a Critical Evaluation of the Translations of the Muʿallaqāt into English and French (1782-2000), 2005; revised and published by Peter Lang, Bern, 2008.
  • Meis Shaker Mahmud al-Kaisi, Nine Celebrated Ascetics: A Critical Edition and a Study of an Extract of Ḥilyat al-Awliyāʾ wa-Ṭabaqāt al-Aṣfiyā’ by Abū Nuʿaym al-Iṣfahanī (336/948 – 430/1038), 2006.
  • Stefan Soehnchen, Mapping Legal Consciousness: A Study of Palestinian Oral Narrative on Law in Israeli Society, 2007.
  • Arafat Madi Shoukri, Refugee Status in the Arab and Islamic Tradition : A Comparative Study of Jiwār, Amān and the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 2008; revised and published as Refugee Status in Islam: Concepts of Protection in Islamic Tradition and International Law, I.B.Taurus, 2011.
  • Paolo Novak, (The Production of) Who is a Refugee?, 2008.
  • Aziz K. Qutbuddin, Taḥmīd – A Literary Genre?, 2009; under revision for publication by E.J.Brill.
  • Walid Khazendar, Place in the Making: A Study on Image-Making in Early Arabic Poetry, 2010.
  • Sarah Bin Tyeer, Qubḥ and the Creative Process: The Concept of Ugliness in Pre-Modern Arabic Literature, 2010.
  • Peter Phillips, Bravery and Eloquence: Poetry in the Siyar Shaʿbīya, 2012; revised and published as Bravery and Eloquence: Poetry in the Arabic Popular Epics (Siyar Sha’biyya), Part I: Analysis, Part II: Placement of Poems in the Siyar, plus Texts and Translations of Selected Poems. Harvard University, 2014.
  • Abdulrahman Al-Farhan, Spirituality in Modern Arabic Prison Poetry, 2017.
  • Ghareeb Saedi, Foreign Affinities: Arabic Translations of English Poetry and their Impact on Arabic Verse: A Discursive Approach, 2018, revised and published as English Poetry and Modern Arabic Verse: Translation and Modernity, Bloomsbury, London, 2021.
  • Dena Fakhro, The Blood Vengeance Theme in Arabic Poetry: from the Classical Poetic Tradition to the Present, 2018.
  • Michael Hunter, A Poetics of Analogy in Works by Poets from the Iberian Peninsula, 2019.


Arabic Literature Classical and Modern; Comparative Literature; Qur’an and Hadith Studies; Islamic Art; Sufism and Neoplatonism; Refugee and Exile Studies


For help in contacting SOAS academics and advice on services to business and the community, please contact SOAS Enterprise on +44(0)20 7898 4837 or email
For all press and media enquiries please call +44 (0)20 7898 4135 or email

Available for
  • Briefings
  • Short Term Consultancy
  • Long Term Consultancy
Regional Expertise
  • Near and Middle East
  • Africa
Country Expertise
  • Egypt
  • Sudan
  • Syria


Authored Books

Moustafa, Ahmed and Sperl, Stefan (2014) The Cosmic Script: Sacred Geometry and the Science of Arabic Penmanship, Volume 1, Sources and Principles of the Geometry of Letters, Volume 2, From Geometric Pattern to Living Form. London and Rochester, VT: Thames & Hudson and Inner Traditions.

Sperl, Stefan (1989) Mannerism in Arabic Poetry, A Structural Analysis of Selected Texts (9th - 11th Centuries AD). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Sperl, Stefan (2020) 'İnsanın "Boş Özü": Hadis Literatüründe ve Klasik Arap Edebinde Etik ve Estetik [translated by Suat Koca]'. Hitit Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi / Journal of Divinity Faculty of Hitit University, (19) 1, pp 506-546.

Sperl, Stefan (2008) 'Scripture and Modernity: Editorial Preface'. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, (71) 2, pp 179-187.

Sperl, Stefan (2007) 'Man's "Hollow Core": Ethics and Aesthetics in Hadith Literature and Classical Arabic adab'. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, (70) 3, pp 459-486.

Sperl, Stefan (2006) ''The Lunar Eclipse': History, Myth and Magic in Ibrahim al-Kawni's First Novel'. Middle Eastern Literatures, (9) 3, pp 237-55.

Sperl, Stefan (2006) 'Crossing Enemy Boundaries: Al-Buhturi's Ode on the Ruins of Ctesiphon Re-Read in the Light of Virgil and Wilfred Owen'. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, (69) 3, pp 365-79.

Sperl, Stefan (2006) 'Epic and Exile: Comparative Reflections on the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad, Virgil's Aeneid, and Valmiki's Ramayana'. Comparative Studies of South Asia Africa and the Middle East, (26) 1, pp 96-104.

Sperl, Stefan (2002) 'International refugee aid and social change in northern Mali'. Refugee Survey Quarterly, (21) 1&2, pp 147-159.

Sperl, Stefan (2000) 'Stabat Mater - Reflections on a Theme in German-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab Poetry'. Comparative Criticism, (vol. 2), pp 105-129.

Sperl, Stefan (1994) 'The Literary Form of Prayer: Qur’an Sura One, the Lord’s Prayer and a Babylonian Prayer to the Moon God'. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, (57) 1, pp 213-237.

Sperl, Stefan (1977) 'Islamic Kingship and Arabic Panegyric Poetry in the Early Ninth Century'. Journal of Arabic Literature, (8), pp 20-35.

Edited Books or Journals

Sperl, Stefan and Shackle, C., (eds.), (1996) Qasida Poetry in Islamic Africa and Asia (2 volumes). Leiden: Brill. (Studies in Arabic literature, v. 20).

Kreyenbroek, Philip G and Sperl, Stefan, (eds.), (1991) The Kurds, A Contemporary Overview. London: Routledge.

Book Chapters

Sperl, Stefan (2020) 'Islamic Spirituality and the Visual Arts'. In: Lawrence, Bruce and Cornell, Vincent, (eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Islamic Spirituality. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc. [Forthcoming]

Sperl, Stefan (2020) 'The Qurʾan and Arabic Poetry'. In: Shah, Mustafa and Abdel-Haleem, Muhammad, (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Qur'anic Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sperl, Stefan (2013) '"O City Set Up Thy Lament" - Poetic Responses to the Trauma of War'. In: Kennedy, Hugh, (ed.), War and Poetry in the Middle East. London: I.B. Taurus, pp 1-37.

Dedes, Yorgos and Sperl, Stefan (2013) ''In the Rosebower every Leaf is a Page of Delicate Meaning': An Arabic Perspective on Three Ottoman Kasides'. In: Aynur, Hatice and Çakır, Müjgan and Koncu, Hanife and Kuru, Selim S. and Özyıldırım, Ali Emre, (eds.), Kasîdeye Medhiye: Biçime, İşleve ve Muhtavaya Dair Tespitler. Istanbul: Klasik, pp 188-314.

Sperl, Stefan (2010) 'Man's "hollow core": ethics and aesthetics in hadith literature and classical Arabic adab'. In: Shah, Mustafa, (ed.), The Hadith - Critical Concepts in Islamic Studies, Volume IV, Narrative, Context and Content. London: Routledge, pp 98-118.

Sperl, Stefan (2009) 'Islamic Kingship and Arabic Panegyric Poetry in the Early Ninth Century'. In: Stetkevych, Suzanne P., (ed.), Early Islamic Poetry and Poetics. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, pp 79-94.

Sperl, Stefan (2009) 'Darkness Transformed into Light: Ibn al-Mu'tazz on the Pen'. In: Allison, Christine and Joisten-Pruschke, Anke and Wendtland, Antje, (eds.), From Daēna to Dîn : Religion, Kultur und Sprache in der iranischen Welt ; Festschrift für Philip Kreyenbroek zum 60. Geburtstag. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, pp 457-464.

Sperl, Stefan (2005) 'Empire and Magic in a Tuareg Novel: Ibrahim al-Kawni’s al-Khusuf (The Lunar Eclipse)'. In: Ouyang, W. and Hart, S., (eds.), A Companion to Magical Realism. Woodbridge: Tamesis, pp 237-246.

Sperl, Stefan (2004) 'Epic and Exile: Reflections on the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad'. In: Yousof, G. S., (ed.), Reflections on Asian-European Epics. Kuala Lumpur: Asia-Europe Foundation.

Sperl, Stefan (2004) 'Reflections on the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad'. In: Sarwar-Youof, G, (ed.), Reflections on Asian-European Epics. Singapore: Asia Europe Foundation, pp 100-121.

Sperl, Stefan (2000) 'In Celebration of Spring: A Poem by al-Sanawbari'. In: Hawting, R. and Mojaddedi, J.A. and Samely, A., (eds.), Studies in Islamic and Middle Eastern texts and traditions in memory of Norman Calder. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 287-296.

Sperl, Stefan (1996) 'Qasida Form and Mystic Path in 13th Century Egypt'. In: Sperl, Stefan and Shackle, C., (eds.), Qasida poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa. Leiden: Brill, pp 65-82.

Monographs and Working Papers

Sperl, Stefan and De Vriese, Machtelt (2005) From Emergency Evacuation to Community Empowerment: Review of the Repatriation and Reintegration Programme in Sierra Leona. Geneva: Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Sperl, Stefan and Brădişteanu, I (2004) Refugee Resettlement in Developing Countries: The Experience of Benin and Burkina Faso, 1997-2003: an Independent Evaluation. Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Sperl, Stefan (2001) Evaluation of UNHCR’s policy on refugees in urban areas: A case study review of Cairo. Geneva: Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, UNHCR.

Sperl, Stefan (1998) Assistance to Older Refugees: Review and Case Studies from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit. Geneva: UNHCR.

Sperl, Stefan (1998) Review of the Mali / Niger Repatriation and Reintegration Programme. Geneva: Evaluation Service, UNHCR.

Sperl, Stefan (1996) Lessons Learnt from the Rwanda and Burundi Emergencies 1993-94. Geneva: Evaluation Service, UNHCR.


Sperl, Stefan (2008) 'Crown versus Muhammad Asha: Expert Report on Arabic poetry exhibits ADG/36 and ADG/67'.


This list was last generated on Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 10:34 Europe/London.