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Comparative Literatures of the Middle East


Admission requirements

BA Middle Eastern Studies students who have successfully completed the propedeutic exam of the BA Middle Eastern Studies.


This course investigates how the Middle East’s literary cultures, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish, responded to the seismic processes of modernisation and globalisation from the 19th century to the present day. Each of the four language groups possesses rich, centuries-old literary traditions, but each culture also confronted new challenges of organising novel states and societies in the modern period. How did Middle Eastern cultural producers, across the spectrum from states to writers to rebels, meld their old traditions with their new nations, and in what forms did modern Middle Eastern literature emerge from this mixture of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’?
In order to explore the negotiation and re-interpretation of tradition in modern Middle Eastern literature, this literature of each language group will be studied thematically via three core topics of (i) the nation, (ii) religion and (iii) gender. Employing a comparative approach, and with the aid of literary theories of nationalism, post-colonialism, nostalgia and gender, we will explore the similarities and differences between the responses to modernity and reuse of traditions in Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Hebrew.
For each theme and for each language, students will read selections of texts (in translation) from both the pre-modern and modern-era, to explore each language’s literary heritage and to evaluate the responses to and creative re-use of pre-modern writing by modern-era authors, which will then be studied within the context of the broader evolution of the region’s cultural identities.
In addition to the lectures, weekly preparation and end of semester paper, language students will read a short novel (c. 120 pages) in the original language via self-study, guided in an additional weekly reading class with a take-home translation assessment due at the end of the course. Non-language students will read translations of two novels (minimum 400 pages total) and prepare a reading report due after the Reading Week.

Course objectives

The student will
a) become familiar with modern Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish literature, both poetry and prose;
b) be introduced to important pre-modern texts of the literary traditions for each language;
c) learn how to use literary theory of the nation, post-colonialism, nostalgia and gender to analyse literature and place it in its cultural and social context;
d) evaluate concepts of ‘tradition’, ‘modernity’, the state, literary canons and the poetics of nostalgia; and
e) for language students read a complete novel in the original language; or
f) for non-language students read 2 complete novels (in translation) from two of the four languages covered on this course.



Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Seminar: additional class for language students

Attendance is not obligatory for lectures. The conveners do not need to be informed in case of missed classes. Information and knowledge provided in the lectures greatly contribute to the subsequent courses of the programme. In order to pass the course, students are strongly advised to attend all sessions.

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load 5 EC x 28 hours= 140 hours

  • Lectures/Seminars: 26

  • Study of compulsory literature: 32

  • Researching and writing final essay: 20 hours

  • Preparation language tutorials: 50 [for language students]

  • Tutorials: 12 [for language students]

  • Reading and preparing reading report: 62 [for non-language students]

Assessment method


Language students:

  • Seminar participation

  • Translation Take-Home Assignment, due 8 January 2018
    Translate 5 pages of the novel assigned for the special reading class in an appropriate literary register in English or Dutch.
    Pages to be assigned by the teacher

  • Comparative essay, due 8 January 2018

Non-language students:

  • Seminar participation

  • Reading Report, due 6 November 2017
    Write a two-page report based on two books in translation (one page/book). Instructions will be provided by the lecturers

  • Comparative essay, due 8 January 2018

Seminar Participation (for both language and non-language students):

Each week, a discussion question will be set based on the primary and secondary readings. Students must formulate ideas for discussion and submit them (in point form or short sentences approx. ½-1 page) on Blackboard the DAY BEFORE CLASS. Each week one (or more) student will be nominated as moderator of the discussion. The moderator(s) will be responsible for reading each of the student submissions and leading discussion in class with the assistance of the teacher.

Practical exercise

Students are required to attend two lectures organised by either LUCIS [Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society] or the department of Middle Eastern Studies at Leiden. Attendance will be taken, and students who are not recorded as attending at least two lectures during the course of the semester will not be able to pass the course.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average:

  • Language students: participation 15%, translation 25%, comparative essay 50%

  • Non-language students: participation 15%, reading report 25%, comparative essay 60%


Students who receive a failing grade will have an opportunity to resubmit the Comparative Essay and/or the Reading Report (for non-language students) or the Translation Exercise (for language students).
The resubmitted work is due on 22 January 2018.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Distribution of primary and secondary readings

  • Submission of assignments

  • Organisation of seminar discussions.

Reading list

Students will receive a detailed week-by-week handout of the required readings at the beginning of the course.
The detailed syllabus and readings will also be available on Blackboard.

In preparation for the course, students may wish to consult the following:

  • Badawi, M. M. (ed), Modern Arabic Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

  • Ouyang, Wen-Chin, Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel. Edinburgh, Edinburgh UP, 2014.

  • Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. P. Webb