Sheikh Zayed Book Award Announces Arabic Conference With Columbia University

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘The Foundations and Transformations of Arabic Literary Theory’ will examine Arabic literary theoretical frameworks, with sessions in Paris and New York City, in June and October.

Image: From the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre’s introductory video

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Submission Abstracts Deadline: January 10
The Sheikh Zayed Book Awards–which recently announced more than 50 titles in its 2020-2021 cycle of longlists–has announced today (December 9) from the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre a new collaboration with the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at New York City’s Columbia University.

“The Foundations and Transformations of Arabic Theory,” as the conference is titled, is a new partnership designed to create what organizers say is the world’s largest conference on Arabic language and comparative studies.

Currently, the programming outlines two sessions.

These are to be preceded by a preliminary digital session held March 19: “The Theory of Arab Literature: Prospects and Limits.” Registration for that event is open now.

Submissions are open for working papers, and those wishing to propose a presentation are asked to send an abstract of no more than 400 words by January 10 to You’ll find more information on the submission call at the Columbia ICLS site here.

The conference’s design addresses formative literary beginnings in Arabic and their evolution from pre-modern times to the present, in the process examining and evaluating a number of issues related to Arabic literature. In addition, the program explores long-standing themes of Arabic literary theory to infer enduring concepts and terms.

Of particular interest, the conference is set to 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. Programming will study 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
  • Storytelling, identity, digital and social media
  • Visual and spatial narratives

Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak

Al Mubarak: ‘Dialogue and Collaboration

In a prepared statement, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, who is chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, is quoted today, saying, “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’re very pleased to support this landmark conference which will bring the greatest scholars, researchers and writers in the field together in dialogue and collaboration.”

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim

Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chair of the Arabic Language Center and secretary-general of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, says, “We’re 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’re working to incentivize evidence-based research on literary theory in a manner that serves discourse and literary criticism, while factoring in the cultural context of literature.”

Muhsin al-Musawi

And Muhsin al-Musawi, who is professor of Middle East, South Asia, and Africa studies at Columbia, says, “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 organizers strongly feel that such an endeavor 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 organize the largest and richest conference in the field of Arabic language and comparative studies.”

Below is a video in which the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre is described, featuring Bin Tamim. And the conference organizers do mention that fluctuating world health  conditions might have an impact on planned dates. Our coverage will keep you informed on that and other details, of course.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is here, more on Arabic literature is here, and more on translation is here. More from us on publishing and book awards in the international industry is here. Publishing Perspectives is the media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.