Dissertation Defense


Hatem Alzahrani Dissertation Defense

When: Friday, May 24, 9:30 AM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (enter through 241)

Title: The Poet's Self-Image Versus Authority in Arabic Poetry: Between Classical and Modern 

Advisor: Suzanne Stetkevych


This project studies the ways through which poets form their self-image and design its relationship with authority. In its exploration of how poets respond to the authority of tradition, it will focus on the roles the poet’s self-image plays in the negotiation of prophetic authority, given the latter’s centrality in Arabo-Islamic culture and its encapsulation of a multiplicity of authority forms, including the linguistic, aesthetic, socio-cultural, mythological, and the symbolic.

After establishing its theoretical framework, chapter 1 looks at al-Mutanabbī’s (d. 965) self-image versus authority as portrayed in his poetry and, most importantly, in his reception and counter-reception, classical and modern. After that, chapter 2 examines the poet versus the Prophet question but not isolated in the timeframe of the classical period when the actual encounter between these two authority figures took place. Rather, I explore the classical poet’s engagement with the text that established the prophetic authority, the Qurʾān, in light of the reception of this engagement in modern Arabic poetry. The poets studied in this chapter are two classical and one modern, namely Kaʿb b. Zuhayr (d. mid 7th cent.), Tamīm b. Muqbil (d. after 656), and the Palestinian poet Maḥmūd Darwīsh (1941-2008).

The first two chapters will form the foundation for the study of the modernist project of the Saudi poet Muḥammad al-Thubaytī. The latter’s poetry will serve as an example of how the poet’s self-image expresses the anxiety of the modern text in its relationship with tradition, its challenge of a hegemonic narrative, and its disputation with the meaning of the modern, by, first and foremost, secularizing the prophetic experience and harmonizing tradition with modernity.

Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to the modernist movement in Saudi Arabia, represented by al-Thubaytī’s oeuvre, vis-à-vis the authority of the religious and oil-based identity of modern Saudi Arabia. It presents an interpretation of selected poems from al-Thubaytī’s third and fourth collections to argue that his project is centered on a metapoetics that proposes to identify the poet with autochthonous cultural elements, most importantly the sand and palm-trees. I suggest that al-Thubaytī’s project presents a new imagining of the cultural self through the identification of the poet, as a secular prophet, with the natural and cultural landmarks of Arabia, hence offering a space where the temporal and religious realms dissolve into one coherent autochthonous culture.

By placing the poet’s self-image vis-à-vis authority as exemplified in the project of one of the most prominent modernist poets of the Arabian Peninsula against the representation of this relationship in the oeuvre of the quintessential panegyrist of Arabic poetry, al-Muatanbbī, and in two classical poems and their reception in a modernist poem belonging to the so-called “literary center,” this study aims to: 1) better grasp the transformations Arabic poetry has undergone in its articulation of the location of the poet vis-à-vis authority; 2) shed fresh light on an understudied corpus of poetry, i.e., the modern poetry of the Arabian Peninsula, and place it in the continuity of Arabic poetry; and 3) show the benefits of studying Arabic poetry as one continues tradition rather than adhering to the Eurocentric notion of the inevitable break between tradition and modernity.

Ann Gaul Dissertation Defense

When: May 6th, 9:30 AM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Kitchen Histories in Northern Africa

Advisor: Elliott Colla


This dissertation is a comparative study of modern Egypt and Morocco from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1970s, narrated through the lens of the urban middle-class kitchen.Scholars of the region have paid increasing attention to domestic spaces and the politics of gender in the formation of national identity, but with a tendency to focus on written sources, nationalist movements, and formal concepts. I suggest that the notions of modern home and family that underpinned nationalist politics and cultures in Egypt and Morocco cannot be fully understood without an  exploration of the kitchen as both a conceptual and material space. By tracing the histories of cooking stoves and cookware, cookbooks, and foods associated with “national cuisines,” I use the kitchen to tell a narrative that grounds abstract processes in everyday material, affective, and sensory contexts. I show how the home kitchen was crucial to the formation of modern national cultures as well as the figure of the middle-class housewife as a new kind of worker, and the concept of domestic happiness.

The dissertation uses literary analysis, archival data, and ethnography to explore relationships between dominant discourses and quotidian experiences. These methods bridge the seams that both connect and differentiate vernacular accounts from formal histories, domestic spaces from publics, and rationalizing tendencies from intuitive ones. By pursuing a comparative approach with examples from comparable yet distinct cases, I also highlight the historical contingencies entailed in the emergence of modern home kitchens. Why did Arabic cookbooks written for women emerge as a popular genre in Egypt in the 1950s and 60s, but not Morocco? How did similar models of gas stoves become attached to different subjectivities, sensibilities, and cookware materials in each society? Why was middle-class refinement associated with urban dishes featuring cinnamon and saffron in Morocco, but hybrid dishes featuring bechamel or other European techniques in Egypt? In addressing these questions, I contend that everyday culinary practices and spaces were essential to forging new understandings of national identity, gender, and class––often in ways that elided or overwrote existing narratives and categories.

Youssef Haddad Dissertation Defense

When: Monday, April 15th, 2:00 PM

Where: Car Barn 427

Title: "Nativism Contra Acculturation: The Formation of the Mālikī and Ḥanafī Schools of Law"

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


Reconstructing the formation and evolution of the Sunni Islamic schools of law is a precarious endeavor that requires an understanding of distinct, yet overlapping, factors. Notwithstanding the importance of the doctrinal differences among the madhāhib, the sociopolitical and economic forces that contributed to their emergence are equally instrumental. A reading of the sociopolitical landscape from the middle till the end of the 2 nd /8 th century reveals the indubitable causal connection between the role and policies of the state and the development of law. Ranging from fiscal policies to civil unrests and revolutions, this study explores the impact of such policies and events on the formation and development of the Ḥanafī and Mālikī schools, both of which dominated and defined the conversation in the legal space for the generations to follow. Through a chronological approach, this dissertation identifies decisive sociopolitical events that shaped Islamic law, among which are: The apprehensiveness between Arabs and non-Arab reflected in state policies; the state’s incremental Islamization of law; the political activism of some of the ‘ulamā’ in light of the shifts in balance of power; the role of the students of Mālik and Abū Ḥanīfah; the evolution of the type of legal authority; and state patronage and institutionalization of the two schools. Central to this discussion is also the tension between acculturation and nativism, the two defining discourses that shaped Islamic identity,constantly trading places between being the discourse of power and that of resistance.

Abdul Rahman Chamseddine Dissertation Defense

When: Friday, December 21st, 10:00 Am

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Listening to the Sacred

Advisor: Amira Sonbol

AbdAllah Soufan Dissertation Defense

When: Monday, December 17th, 10:00 AM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Tradition and Its Boundaries: A Diachronic Study of the Concept of Bid'ah (Religious Innovation) in Early Islam

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


Pamela Klasova Dissertation Defense 

When: Monday, August 20th, 11 AM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Empire Through Language: Al-Hajjāj B. Yūsuf Al-Thaqafī and the Power of Oratory in Umayyad Iraq

Advisor: Suzanne Stetkevych


This dissertation examines the speeches and the literary-historical figure of al-Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafī (d. 714), the governor of Iraq under the Umayyad dynasty (661-750), to explore the role that cultural means played in the process of building the Islamic empire and to reflect on approaches to early Islamic history.

The first half of the dissertation (chapters 1-3) challenges the perceived image of al-Ḥajjāj as the notorious brutish tyrant of Islamic history and mere servant of the Umayyads. It explains the formation of this image and provides an alternative account, from which al-Ḥajjāj emerges as a semi-autonomous ruler of the Islamic East who made use of a vast array of cultural means to buttress his legitimacy and participated thereby in laying down the ideological principles of the Umayyad empire. In this context, public speaking played an especially important role as a tool to disseminate his ideology and to formulate the identity of the Arabo-Muslim elite. 

The second half deals with al-Ḥajjāj’s speeches and, more generally, with Umayyad oratory which have remained an unexplored field, mainly due to doubts about its authenticity. Chapter 4 discusses the ideology that al-Ḥajjāj’s speeches project and draws attention to their performative quality. Chapter 5—through a detailed analysis of ten variants of one celebrated speech—develops a method in dealing with the authenticity question and highlights oral patterns of transmission based on memorization. The oral transmission of this speech runs against the general view that regards early Islamic oratory as literary inventions of Abbasid historians. Appendix II offers a further excursus into matters of transmission. Finally, Chapter 6 explores the practice and the developing perceptions of Umayyad oratory through different types of material in al-Bayān wa-l-tabyīn by al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 868). Appendix I contains translations of nineteen speeches of al-Ḥajjāj. 

This study offers an example of a memory formation in the case of a key early Islamic figure and draws attention to the phenomenon of Umayyad public speech both as a crucial political tool in building the Empire in its own time and as a cultural product fundamental to Arab self-identification and identity in later period. 

Miloud (Amine) Tais Dissertation Defense

When: Friday, May 25th, 10:00 AM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Between Revivalism and Reconstructionism: Islam, Reform, and Secularism in the Works of Taha Abderrahmane and Mohammed Arkoun

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis

Nadine Hamdan Dissertation Defense

When: Monday, December 18th, 9:00 AM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Hizbullah's Secretary General Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah and What it Means to Be Lebanese

Advisor: Jennifer Scalfani


Michael Raish Dissertation Defense

When: Wednesday, April 19th, 2:00 PM

Where: Poulton 230

Title: The Measurement of the Complexity, Accuracy, and Fluency of Written Arabic

Advisor: Karin Ryding

The current study investigates the multicomponential nature of L2 Arabic writing by adapting a number of direct measures of linguistic complexity, accuracy, and fluency (CAF) to the measurement of written Arabic texts produced by L2 Arabic learners and Arabic Native Speakers (NSs). Previous studies of L2 writing have established that such measures are reliable indicators of learners’ developing interlanguage, however few efforts have thus far applied CAF analyses to spoken or written Arabic, which presents researchers with a number of language-specific challenges. The results of the measures explored here are triangulated with learner responses to several independent estimates of Arabic proficiency, including a novel “short-cut” estimate in the form of an Arabic C-test. Instead of a longitudinal design, in which a learner or group of learners are asked to provide data at different stages of L2 acquisition, the current study entailed the collection Arabic production along a spectrum of writing ability, spanning from learners at the end of their first year through Arabic NSs.

Significant findings of this study include the fact that learners appear to “move” toward more natively-like written production as their overall facility with the Arabic language increases. Furthermore, learners scores on the various selected CAF measures correlate highly with each other, as well as with the selected independent measures. C-test consistently emerges via regression as the most reliable predictor of variability in written CAF among the selected explanatory variables, followed closely by self-estimated overall Arabic ability. Conversely, however, this study establishes that sentence-based measures are shown to be unreliable for the modeling of learner-produced Arabic texts, as well as the fact that communicative Arabic writing does not necessarily benefit from lemmatization prior to lexical analysis, in spite of features of the Arabic script and morphology that may argue otherwise. Additionally, regression models presented here establish that the commonly used independent measure Years of Study is shown to be an unreliable predictor of learner CAF among the participants in this study. Ultimately, the measures and analyses presented here represent an initial effort to model L2 Arabic writing according to widely used CAF measures, however the findings presented here nevertheless have important implications for the Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language (TAFL) field. 


When: Monday, November 7th, 1:00 PM

Where: ICC Room 550

Title: Dreams of Alternative Modernities on the Nile

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


This study is an archaeology of the alternative forms of modernity prevalent in Egyptian popular culture through the lens of cinema, a modern art form negotiating overt and covert censorship in the public sphere. Focusing on the inter-revolutionary period of 1919-1952, the study accounts for the ability of Egyptian cinema as modern form of art and popular culture to critique rigid social realities and imagine modern social experiences, thereby pushing boundaries towards social change, despite overt and covert censorship regimes.



When: Tuesday, August 23rd, 10:00 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: Televangelists, Media DU‘Ā, and ‘ULAMĀ’: The Evolution of Religious Authority in Modern Islam

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


The rise of modern media has led to debates about religious authority in Islam, questioning whether it is fragmenting or proliferating, and exploring the state of the ‘ulamā’ and new groups like religious intellectuals and Muslim televangelists.  This study explores these changes through a specific group of popular preachers, the media du‘ā, who are characterized by their educational degrees and their place outside the religious establishment, their informal language and style, and their extensive use of modern media tools.  Three media du‘ā from the Arab world are the subject of this study: Amr Khaled, Ahmad al-Shugairi, and Tariq al-Suwaidan.  Their written material – books, published interviews, social media, and websites – form the primary sources for this work, supplemented by examples from their television programs.  To paint a complete picture, this dissertation examines not only the style of these preachers, but also their goals, their audience, the topics they address, and their influences and critics. 

This study first compares the media du‘ā to Christian televangelists, revealing that religious authority in Islam is both proliferating and differentiating, and that these preachers are subtly influencing society and politics.  Second, it presents a theoretical analysis of their main audience – Muslim youth.  Youth are strongly encouraged to take action, and thus serve as both the media du‘ā’s tool for change and the target audience for their religious messages.  Third, it provides evidence of how these preachers blend old sources with new issues and how they are shifting religious discourse to focus on life in this world, not just the afterlife.  Finally, this study explores the ties between the media du‘ā and the ‘ulamā’.  There is no clear line of demarcation between the du‘ā’s ideological views and those of the ‘ulamā’, at least on big issues, and, the media du‘ā often defer to the religious authority of the ‘ulamā’.  This study thus concludes that these preachers have two roles in society, that of agenda setters and motivators.  This allows them to suggest issues that require attention, subtly affecting religious discourse, and then encourage their audience to act, thereby slowly enacting social and religious change.


When: Tuesday, July 12th, 10:30 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: Hybridity and Superdiversity on Syrian Dissidents’ Facebook Pages. An Online Ethnography of Language, Identity and Authenticity

Advisor: Karin Ryding


This work contributes to the discussion about the role of social media in political mobilization by analyzing the writing practices of a group of Syrian dissidents on Facebook. Challenging the assumption that Western technology inhibited political activism, this work shows how Syrian dissidents appropriated a global medium like Facebook to negotiate, construct identities and create political participation. In particular, it demonstrates how the resources and the discursive strategies utilized by two Syrian dissidents before and after the revolution underlay respectively the construction of new individual, cosmopolitan identities and the collective identity of dissidents as authentic Syrians. The latter emerged in concomitance with a claim made by Bashar al-Asad at the beginning of the uprisings, who alleged that protestors were foreign infiltrators spreading religious fragmentation and sedition.

The methodology for this study was informed by Androutsopoulos’s (2008b) Discourse-Centred Online Ethnography and Barton and Lee’s (2013) Mixed-Method Approach, which advocate the integration of text analysis with interviews with text producers and readers. This work embraces a social constructionist approach to language and identity (cf. De Fina, Schiffrin and Bamberg 2006), which investigates identity as emergent in discourse and interaction. In addition, it builds on ideas proposed by Blommaert and Rampton (2011) in their agenda for the study of language in superdiversity, including their own call for language ethnography.

Among the main findings is that identities are more often indexed through hybrid, including creative and strategically bivalent forms, rather than separate codes. This finding contributes to sociolinguistic theory, highlighting the importance of a hybridity focus for the study of language in superdiversity. Moreover, the emergence and negotiation of new identities in a short period of time and the different values attributed to similar linguistic resources and strategies based on online interaction triggered by socio-political events reinforces the validity of a notion such as superdiversity.


When: Friday, July 8th, 2:00 PM

Where: CCAS Boardroom, ICC 141 (Enter through 241)

Title: Natural Justice under the Scope of Rhetoric the Written and the Unwritten Laws in Ibn Rushd’s Political and Legal Philosophy

Advisor: Emma Gannagé


This dissertation explores the works of Ibn Rushd, and identifies an appropriation of Aristotle’s concept of natural justice, paying attention to the distinction he makes between the written laws (al-sunnan al-maktūba), and unwritten laws (al-sunnan ghayr al-maktūba) in his Middle Commentary to Aristotle’s Rhetoric (Talkhīṣ al-khaṭāba), and parallel views in his legal works. My study argues that Ibn Rushd’s legal and political philosophy advances a concrete view of Aristotle’s natural justice, which anchors ethic in the normative framework of sharī‘a. Ibn Rushd’s conception of natural justice, I propose, is best evidenced in his view on the political and epistemological value of rhetoric and its relation to law. I further argue that Ibn Rushd asserts the necessity of rhetoric to ensure justice—which he considers key to political stability. Ibn Rushd, therefore, constructs his conception of natural justice under the epistemological scope of rhetoric, through the prism of the unexamined opinion (bādi’ al-ra’y al- mushtarak), a quasi-rational view of instinct opinion shared among people. I locate this discussion within Ibn Rushd’s views of the written laws and unwritten laws and their relation to natural justice. The thesis proposes that Ibn Rushd identifies two modes for natural justice: in potentiality, based on natural human inclination, accessible to the masses; and in actuality, linked to the elite, and only accessible to qualified jurists, through ijtihād. Ibn Rushd successfully bridges this proposed divide between the masses and the elite, through setting public approval as a condition: he grounds the concept of natural justice in the unexamined opinion, thus providing the epistemological criteria for the qualified jurist to frame arguments curated to garner public approval. Finally, I show how Ibn Rushd contextualizes his conception of the Stagirite’s natural justice within sharī‘a, which, he contends, encompasses both the written and unwritten laws: written laws, such as the ḥudūd punishment; and unwritten law associated with the Qur’anic ethical concepts and the objectives of the law grounded in the different legal precepts (al-qawā‘id al-fiqhiyya). The importance of my contribution lies in challenging the dominant position, which has long held that Ibn Rushd equates sharī‘a with truth, instead I underline how Ibn Rushd presents the practical efficiency of sharī‘a as the sole ground to its evidence. In advancing novel discussions and unfolding unexamined connections, the thesis of my work revisit this correlation to underline the proximity between sharī‘a and practical philosophy.


When: Thursday, July 7th, 10:30 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: Rebel Preachers: The Making of Islamic Activism in Shī‘ī Lebanon (1960-1985)

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


This dissertation investigates the intellectual and organizational genesis of the Shī‘ī religious community that burgeoned in Lebanon in the 1970s. It reveals how the contemporary Shī‘ī Islamic community, including Hizbullah that appeared in 1982, evolved through several overlapping phases of education, mobilization, revolutionization, and consolidation, on religious bases. Predominant academic opinion links the formation of new religious consciousness and new religious movements that succeeded the formation of Hizbullah in Shī‘ī Lebanon to Iran’s exportation of its “Islamic Revolution.” Not only does this dissertation reopen the discussion on the transformation of religiosity in Shī‘ī Lebanon, but it also elucidates the identity and origins of groups and ideas that constitute the contemporary Shī‘ī milieu that crystallized in the 1980s. It looks at various religious paradigms that interacted in the contexts of sectarianism, economic crises, and wars. This dissertation, moreover, links the eruption of religion in the Lebanese public sphere in the 1980s to a larger tide of global religious renaissance, which, in the Shī‘ī case, began around the middle of the Twentieth century in Iraq and Iran.


When: Monday, June 13th, 12:30 PM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: History and Politics of Nomadism in Modern Palestine (1882-1948)

Advisor: Judith Tucker


My research examines contending visions on nomadism in modern Palestine, with special focus on the Mandate period. It is a comparative study that covers British, Arab and Zionist attitudes to nomadism. By nomadism I refer to a form of territorialist discourse, one which views tribal formations as the antithesis of national and land rights, thus justifying the exteriority of nomadism to the state apparatus. Drawing on primary sources in Arabic and Hebrew, I show how local conceptions of nomadism have been reconstructed on new legal taxonomies rooted in modern European theories and praxes: labor, cultivation, ownership, property, surplus and other capitalist modes of production. By undertaking a comparative approach, I maintain that the introduction of these taxonomies transformed not only local Palestinian perceptions of nomadism, but perceptions that characterized early Jewish literature. The purpose of my research is not to provide a legal framework for nomadism on the basis of these taxonomies. Quite the contrary, it is to show how nomadism, as a set of official narratives on the Bedouin of Palestine, failed to imagine nationhood, let alone statehood, beyond the single apparatus of settlement.

Three major, intertwined questions run through my study. First, how British, Arab and Jewish perceptions of nomadism have been shaped within the matrix of power relations in Mandate Palestine, one which involved British colonialism, Labor Zionism, and Palestinian nationalism? Second, how perceptions of nomadism have been constituted within a web of discursive strands, such as race, nationhood, statehood, autochthony, modernity, settlement, and land rights? Third, how nomadism as a discourse on the Bedouin of Palestine has emerged across fields as diverse as raciology (scientific racism), ethnography, anthropology, political economy, legal theory, and climatic (declensionist) narratives on tribal invasions? What I am asking, in short, is: Can we treat nomadism as a field of historical inquiry, a formative discourse by which British officials, Zionist pioneers, and Palestinian nationalists imagined, managed and governed the Bedouin of Palestine?


When: Friday, May 27th, 12:00 PM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: Coordinating Mass Protests in Tahrir Square: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Engroupment, Multi-Modal Intertextuality & Revolution

Advisor: Mark Sicoli

This dissertation poses three central questions about the 2011 Egyptian Arab Spring:

1) What catalyzed and perpetuated Egypt’s 2011 ‘revolutionary interval’?

2) How effective were various messaging channels (vocal, gestural, ecological, technological) in initiating and coordinating newcomers into smaller protest formations and the larger revolutionary formation?

3) What processes were involved in ‘engrouping’ smaller protests into the mass ‘revolutionary formation’ of the 18 Days of Tahrir?

The overarching problem is describing how messages that perpetuated the revolution were conveyed through both oral and embodied channels and how that multi-channel language for communicating about and spreading the revolution transformed the people who developed and used it. This language was a vehicle that became a voice that ordinary citizens could use to create a politically-empowered identity. Indeed, those voices and identities of the 2011 Egyptian revolution came to topple the three-decades-old regime of Hosni Mubarak. While some argue Mubarak’s resignation was a short-lived victory given Egypt’s trajectory back toward authoritarian rule since then, I am more interested in how this intense period of popular revolution gave way to a political performative idiom, or what I call “voices” that enabled lay Egyptians to challenge the rules of Arab political discourse as revolutionaries who wielded political power. I explain the charged historical moment and the public spaces in which incumbent institutions and structures were challenged in the political idiom of the revolution in terms of ‘the revolutionary interval’ (i.e. '18 Days of Tahrir’). I discuss the disruption of the fragile institutional status quo through a framework that brings together approaches from multimodal interaction and intertextuality. I focus on how individuals and smaller protest groups combine into larger groups around shared goals, and ultimately into the formations captured in now-popular images of a seemingly-unified mass of Egyptians demanding Mubarak’s resignation. I discuss these processes in terms of distributed cognition, semiotics, and cybernetics theories. I conclude with a description of an experimental computational-sociolinguistic simulation of the methods of communication deployed in Tahrir Square. The simulation models the relative conversion efficiencies of five communicative channel types used to initiate newcomers and coordinate protesters into a revolutionary formation.


When: Monday, April 11th, 10:30 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: From God's Nature to God's Law: Theology, Law and Legal Theory in Islam

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


When: Thursday, October 15th, 10:00 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230


Advisor: Karin Ryding


Lexical knowledge is an essential component of language knowledge. Vocabulary size has consistently been found to be correlated with other measures of language proficiency and to predict functional language ability. Assessment formats designed to measure lexical knowledge have been influenced by the rich description of lexical patterns made possible by recent advances in corpus linguistics; in particular, these assessments have incorporated word frequency statistics as an organizing structural principle. This dissertation details the development of three frequency-based, web-delivered assessments, modelled on established English as a Foreign Language formats, designed to measure the vocabulary knowledge of non-native learners of Arabic. Word frequency data for these assessments was taken from Buckwalter and Parkinson’s Frequency Dictionary of Arabic. This study represents the first empirical, frequency-based investigation of learner vocabulary knowledge carried out for Arabic. Primary research questions investigated in the study include (1) the effect of word frequency ranking on item performance, (2) the ability of learner independent variables to predict assessment performance, and (3) the internal correlation of the three assessment measures.

Following an assessment development and piloting process, 161 non-native learners of Arabic of varying proficiency and experience levels completed the assessments and a learner history questionnaire. Results were analyzed to determine lexical profiles of individuals and groups; they were also subjected to traditional item facility and Rasch analysis. Results indicate that word frequency was significantly correlated with item facility ratings. Learner years of study and self-reported proficiency were both effective predictors of performance on the assessments. Results on the two measures of vocabulary size were highly correlated with each other and with the results of the third format, designed to measure depth of vocabulary knowledge. Aggregate group performance by years of study indicates an acquisition rate of 800 to 1000 words per year, although some caution may be necessary in generalizing the results of this population to the larger population of L2 Arabic learners. The study also discusses challenges inherent to the development of Arabic pseudowords and limitations of both space-delimited strings and raw lemmas as Arabic word units.


When: Wednesday, July 15th, 10:00 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: A Thousand and One Wives: Investigating the Intellectual History of the Exegesis of Verse 4:24 and its Implications for Islamic Sexual Ethics

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


My dissertation, “A Thousand and One Wives: Investigating the Intellectual History of the Exegesis of Verse 4:24 and its Implications for Islamic Sexual Ethics,” provides the intellectual legacy of the exegesis of Qur’an 4:24, which is used as the proof text for the permissibility of mut’a (temporary marriage). The chronological span of the twenty-five Qur’an commentaries examined extends from the first extant commentary to the present day. My dissertation is the only work in English that includes a plurality of voices from minor schools (Ibadi, Ashari, Zaidi, and Ismaili), largely neglected by Western scholars, alongside major schools, and draws from all available sub-genres of exegesis in three major Islamicate languages.

As Western academia’s first comprehensive work concerning the intellectual history of mut’a marriage and sexual ethics, my dissertation illustrates the power of sectarian influences in how scholars have interpreted verse 4:24. I explore how doctrinal self-identity, rather than strictly philological analyses, shaped the interpretation of the verse. By revealing ambiguities in the interpretation of mut’a, my work challenges accepted sexual ethics in Islamic thought, as posited by both classical and modern Muslim and Western scholars—and thus opens up space to theorize Islamic sexual ethics anew. 



When: Wednesday, April 29th, 12:30 PM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230


Advisor: Suzanne Stetkevych


The present monograph is a study of al-‘Iqd (The Necklace), a twenty-five volume anthology purportedly compiled and written in Córdoba by Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ‘Abd Rabbih al-Qurṭubī (d. 328/940).  Specifically, the study looks at al-‘Iqd as a work of adab whose production advances the caliphal venture of the Umayyads in in 4th/10thcentury Iberian Peninsula, and in which Arabo-Islamic political and cultural genealogies are established through the rhetoric of restoration.  To this purpose, I examine the competing premises within the work’s historiographical and epistemological enterprises: al-‘Iqd claims to incorporate and eclipse the major works of the powerhouses of the Islamic east.  As such, the anthology serves as a space for formulating historical and cultural narratives in ways that produce and sustain the foundations of Umayyad legitimacy.  While serving to transmit and encode an ideology of the Islamic empire to the new caliphate in Córdoba, al-‘Iqd, nonetheless, simultaneously introduces itself as a unique work of adab, and a harbinger of an emergent golden age.  My inquiry focuses on two concepts of classical Arabo-Islamic culture that have been challenged and transformed in al-‘Iqd’s negotiation of the political and cultural conditions of its production.  Primarily, al-‘Iqd places emphasis on critical acumen and on the concept of choice/selection (al-ikhtiyār) which is introduced as a superior alternative to the source of knowledge and to isnād (chains of authority in transmitting knowledge)—thus questioning the long accepted attitudes toward authority, authorship and views of the past.  The second is al-‘Iqd’s unprecedented scope (themes, genres and vernacular language) that participates in creating a cultural repertoire within which specific notions of authority are infused: it unabashedly transforms conception of the paideutic role of knowledge production, and with that, notions of readership/audience and the political potentiality of adab in 4th/10th century Arabo-Islamic culture.


When: Friday, March 6th, 10:00 AM

Where: ICC 462

Title: Elite Engagement in Language Policy and Planning: Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi and the Advancement of Arabization in Algeria

Advisor: Reem Bassiouney

This dissertation looks at elite engagement in the process of language policy and planning in Algeria after independence, highlighting the connection between ideology and the development of national identity. To achieve this, the study examines the memoirs of Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, Algeria’s Minister of Education from 1965-70 and Minister of Culture and Information from 1970-77, focusing on specific linguistic markers and narrative techniques to understand how Ibrahimi came to construct his own identity, as well as a collective Algerian identity that he sought to promote through education and the media. Theoretical bases include a social understanding of language as per Bakhtin, Billig’s work on banal nationalism, Ager’s understanding of the role of elites in developing national language policy, and Suleiman’s treatment of the Arabic language and its place in the development of national identity.

The methodology of the study draws on narrative analysis as per De Fina, highlighting instances of pronominal choice, positioning, voicing, and categorization. Analysis indicates that Ibrahimi uses these strategies to construct a multi-layered personal and social identity to preserve and promote what he perceives as his political legacy. In a unique application of De Fina’s approach, the study demonstrates that Ibrahimi also attempts to construct a collective identity that defines Algeria as an Arab, Muslim, and Arabic-speaking nation—a notion that would be propagated among the people through the education system and media. This dissertation concludes that elite policymakers who are actively engaged in the construction and/or reproduction of language policy do so as much for personal and ideological reasons as for more overt political reasons such as the reproduction of official narratives. The study also concludes that narrative analysis, when applied to written texts such as memoirs, provides a fruitful approach for understanding the complex connections between language and identity, particularly in the Arab world.


When: Friday, December 12th, 11:00 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: Nation-Building, Poetry, and Patronage: the Nabaṭī Qaṣīda Waṭanīya in Qatar and the UAE

Advisor: Elliott Colla


This dissertation is a work on the role of nabaṭī poetry in Qatari and Emirati projects of nation-building and the construction of national history. This role is double. On the one hand, as this research demonstrates, the history of nabaṭī poetry is itself constructed to reflect the longevity that helps legitimize a nation. On the other hand, nabaṭī poetry is, like classical Arabic poetry, well-suited to contribute to projects of history construction based on its mythopoeic capacity. This dissertation studies the body of nabaṭī poetry that stands most directly in the service of nation-building projects: waṭanīya poetry.

A comparison of waṭanīya poetry with pre-modern nabaṭī praise and boast poetry demonstrates that these thematic units have been combined and repurposed in the waṭanīya. Based on a close-reading of a variety of waṭanīyāt and their comparison with other texts and practices that serve to enact allegiance, this dissertation argues that functionally speaking, the waṭanīya serves as an enactment of allegiance in poetic form. As allegiance performatives, waṭanīyāt should be understood as one of the many guises of the mubāyaʻa, a complex of enactments of allegiance that includes textually mediated, oral, and non-verbal forms of communication.

Like pre-modern praise and boast poetry,  the waṭanīya engages in myth-making for the sake of community-bonding and the legitimization of rule. The praise and enacted allegiance are now, however, addressed to the national leaders. As adaptation of existing material operating in a new national context, the waṭanīya can be understood as invented tradition on the literary level.

As enactment of allegiance and contribution to the national narrative, waṭanīyat can be considered a symbolic gift. This dissertation includes a study of the televised poetry competition Shāʻir al-Milyūn as an example of institutionalized remuneration for poetic gifts. Based on an analysis of elements of the performance setting and of a waṭanīya performed on the stage of Shāʻir al-Milyūn, this work argues for an understanding of Shāʻir al-Milyūn as system of literary patronage.



When: Tuesday, June 24th, 11:30 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: Intersections: Modernity, Gender and QurʾAnic Exegesis

Advisor: Felicitas Opwis


Modernity imparted a new theoretical significance to the issue of gender reform in the Muslim world. This dissertation examines the impact of modernity on the hermeneutical approaches and interpretations of three modern exegetes. It compares the tafsīr works of Muḥammad ʿAbduh, Sayyid Quṭb, and Muḥammad al-Ṭāhir ibn ʿĀshūr with those of pre-modern exegetes, specifically concerning three different Qurʾanic verses: 2:228, 4:3, and 4:34. These verses gained importance in modern exegetes’ quest to articulate Islam’s position on gender, a debate that was tied to the larger ideological question on whether or not Islam was fit for modern times.

ʿAbduh, Quṭb, and Ibn ʿĀshūr all attempt to demonstrate Islam’s relevance to the needs of modern societies and, in doing so, they anchor their calls for broader societal change in the religion’s foundational text, the Qurʾan. While the works of all three exegetes reflect full engagement with modernity, their approaches are grounded in very different methodologies, traditions, and orientations. As modern Islamic intellectual thought was characterized by both continuity and change, ʿAbduh’s and Quṭb’s works represent a methodological break with the pre-modern exegetical tradition, whereas Ibn ʿĀshūr’s tafsīr represents a more complex hermeneutic that establishes itself in the pre-modern philological exegetical tradition, yet regularly reaches new conclusions. Ibn ʿĀshūr’s ability to undergird new interpretations with long-established, exegetical methodologies is a testimony to the intellectual tradition’s potential to embrace change through its timeless methodologies. This dissertation provides significant insight on the markers of continuity and change in the Qurʾanic exegetical tradition.

The tension between continuity and change in modern Islamic intellectual thought demonstrates that interpretive differences between modern and pre-modern exegetes are not black and white. While ʿAbduh, Quṭb, and Ibn ʿĀshūr reach significantly new conclusions on certain verses, they also echo many of the pre-modern interpretations on gender. As such, the exegetical tradition on gender reflects a variety of interpretations that defies existing generalizations of this tradition as consistently patriarchal.


When: Wednesday, November 27th, 9:30 AM

Where: Poulton Hall Room 230

Title: “The Falls of Baghdad in 1258 and 2003: A Study in Sunnī-Shī‘ī Clashing Memories”

Advisor: Najam Haidar


This dissertation analyzes the narratives on the fall of Baghdad of 1258, focusing on the question of responsibility for the event: why did Baghdad fall to the Mongols and to whom was responsibility attributed? The dissertation argues that the earliest narratives of the fall of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate demonstrate a plethora of views, which can be explained by the socio-political role of the historians writing for powerful patrons, but also by the critical importance of literary topoi. While some of the earliest works laid the blame on the Shī‘ī wazīr Ibn al-‘Alqamī for the event, this view is expanded among the Sunnī Mamlūk sources, which show a certain consensus around the responsibility of the Shī‘ī community at large for the event. A category of Mamlūk clerics even go beyond accusing Ibn al-‘Alqamī and focus their narratives on the person of Nas̟īr al-Dīn al-T̟ūsī, Shī‘ī philosopher and astronomer. These views should be seen as a direct consequence of the rise of Shi‘ism under the early Ilkhānid Empire and the ‘ulamā’s battle to protect what they saw as “orthodox” Islam in a threatening environment. These polemical views, mostly shaped a century or two after the fall of Baghdad, have a significant impact on today’s communal memories of the events. Polarized discourses have been growing since the fall of Baghdad in 2003: the event has been described by many Sunnī intellectuals, clerics, politicians, but also Iraqis more generally, as a repetition of the Shī‘ī betrayal of 1258, in which the Shī‘a are believed to have brought in the invader. If Nuri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has been called “the new Ibn al-‘Alqamī,” a new polemical term has been forged to describe the Shī‘ī community at large: the ‘alāqima, used throughout social media and in the press, establishing a link between past and present, and reinforcing the polarization of Sunnī and Shī‘ī historical memories .


GARY BOUTZ Dissertation Defense

When: Tuesday, December 6th, 1:00 PM

Where: ICC 462

Title: "Generic Cues and Generic Features in Arabic Science Fiction: The Novels of Kassem Kassem"


Is Arabic science fiction similar to the kind of science fiction with which a reader of English-language science fiction, a watcher of English-language science fiction films, or viewer of English-language science fiction television programs is familiar, or is Arabic science fiction something else entirely? This dissertation constructs a model of the science fiction genre as it has evolved in the English language using prototype theory and the three structural dimensions of genre proposed by John Frow in Genre (2005): formal organization, thematic content, and rhetorical structure. Formal organization includes the use of deixis and pulpstyle features; thematic content addresses the iconography of science fiction, including the icons of the spaceship, the alien, the transformed human, and the robot; and rhetorical structure includes the four features of alternativity, plausibility, extrapolation, and a relationship to science. Five Arabic-language novels that identify themselves as science fiction are chosen for examination based on paratextual criteria: al-rihla (1991), la‘anat al-ghuyum (1993), hadatha an ra’á (1995), lamasat al-daw’ (2001), and jasad harr (2004). The model of the science fiction genre is used to examine these five novels, written by Kassem Kassem, a Lebanese author. It is determined that each of the five novels exhibits features of prototypical science fiction. The implications of the presence of these features for science fiction studies and avenues for further research are discussed.

Gergana Atanassova Dissertaion Defense

Candidate: Gergana Atanassova, Arabic
Time: 10:00 am

Title: "Beginning and advanced learners' awareness of corrective feedback in the Arabic foreign language classroom"

Advisor: Dr. Kassem Wahba


Corrective feedback as part of conversational interaction has been shown to facilitate language development (Li, 2010; Russel & Spada, 2006), but learners differ in the extent to which they benefit from it.Awareness is one cognitive process that has been proposed to play a supportive(Gass, 1997; Schmidt, 2009) to essential (Carroll, 2001) role in moderating feedback effectiveness. Language proficiency has also been suggested to influence the way learners engage with feedback (Ammar & Spada, 2006; Philp, 2003). However,the relationship between proficiency and awareness of feedback during classroom interaction has not yet been empirically addressed.
In this study, five intact Arabic classes – four beginning and one advanced – were observed and videotaped during unscripted whole-class conversational activities. Volunteers from each class (26 beginners, 5 advanced) then participated in a stimulated recall interview in order to gauge their awareness of the target and corrective intent of classroom feedback. The interview protocols were coded for presence or absence of awareness, and analyzed in relation to three characteristics of the feedback episode to which they were referring:type, linguistic target, and direction. Qualitative thematic analysis of the protocols was used to identify additional factors in learners’ awareness of feedback.
Advanced learners reported awareness of correction 79% and awareness of target 41% of the time, significantly more frequently than beginners (54%and 27%, respectively). None of the feedback characteristics investigated in the study was significantly associated with advanced learners’ awareness, but all three were significantly associated with beginning learners’ awareness. Thematic analysis of interview protocols showed that learner awareness was additionally influenced by the presence of new information in the episode, affective response to the feedback or its addressee, and external factors such as fatigue. The findings highlight the role of proficiency in feedback awareness and suggest a need for further exploration of the influence of affect on learner engagement with feedback.


Rebecca Hernandez Dissertation Defense

Candidate: Rebecca Hernandez, Arabic
Time: 12:00 pm
Title: "Framing The Jurist: The Legal Persona of Jalal Al-Din Al-Suyuti"

Advisor: Dr. Felicitas Opwis


This research looks at attempts by the Egyptian polymath Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 1505) to frame his authority as a jurist in his legal writings. The research aims to access the multi-faceted legal persona that the author constructs through his use of the written word. I suggest that al-Suyuti seeks to assert his authority as a superior scholar at a time in which claims to practice independent legal reasoning (ijtihad) were often met with hostility by members of the scholarly community.
Each chapter is intended to analyze in detail a different aspect of al-Suyuti’s legal persona as well as a different rhetorical strategy that the author uses to establish, defend, and maintain his authority. The texts examined as case studies include: a legal opinion (fatwa) concerning scholarly stipends funded by ‘public’ endowments, a fatwa condemning the study of logic, independent treatises and sections of the author’s autobiography dealing with the concepts of ijtihad and tajdid (religious renewal), and a book on legal precepts (qawa‘id).
I assume that the author’s choice of form and genre is deliberate and that his use of language speaks to his pragmatic goals. In order to claim the rank of mujtahid (jurist capable of independent reasoning) and mujaddid (renewer of religion), al-Suyuti must speak and act as such. To understand how al-Suyuti uses language to accomplish these goals, I incorporate into my analysis theories and methodological tools from the realm of sociolinguistics, including framing techniques, interdiscursivity, communities of practice, critical discourse analysis, and pragmatics. Sociolinguistic theories are a valuable means with which to understand not only what the author wishes to convey but also how he says it and why he chooses to say it in the way that he does.
Finally, this research allows me to evaluate, to some degree, the relative effectiveness of al-Suyuti’s efforts to frame his persona as a jurist and to negotiate this identity in the world through practice. I conclude that, while al-Suyuti’s framing effort may have failed to convince most of his contemporaries, he is vindicated by the continuing legacy of his works.

Younus Mirza Dissertation Defense

Candidate: Younus Mirza, Islamic Studies
Time: 3:00 pm
Title: "Ibn Kathir (d. 1373) - His Intellectual Circle, Major Works, and Qur’anic Exegesis"

Advisor: Dr. Felicitas Opwis


My dissertation focuses on one of the most popular medieval Muslim figures in modern times, Ibn Kathir. My thesis argues that Ibn Kathir’s work reflects a critical theological struggle in the history of Islam between those who emphasized the original sources of the Qur’an and prophetic practice (traditionalists) and those who insisted on the incorporation of scholastic theology and the accumulated experience of the community (Ash‘aris). Previous scholarship considers Ibn Kathir simply a student of the great traditionalist jurist and theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Ibn Taymiyya was the symbolic leader of the traditionalist movement and was imprisoned multiple times because of his attempts to challenge the established Ash‘ari social order. Ibn Kathir’s ardent support of Ibn Taymiyya led many Arabic biographers to subsume Ibn Kathir under the hagiography of Ibn Taymiyya. Modern Western scholarship builds off the Arabic biographical literature to the point that Ibn Kathir is perceived as the mere “spokesperson” for Ibn Taymiyya and his Qur’anic exegesis a simple implementation of Ibn Taymiyya’s Qur’anic hermeneutic. Yet, through examining Ibn Kathir’s intellectual circle, major works, and Qur’anic exegesis, this dissertation demonstrates that Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Kathir represent two different types of traditionalism. Ibn Taymiyya believed in an intellectualized traditionalism which delved deeply into philosophy and scholastic theology to argue for scripture’s rationality. Ibn Kathir, on the other hand, subscribed to a fideist traditionalism which was content with the superiority of the transmitted sources and the use of rational tools to analyze scripture. Ibn Kathir’s Qur’anic exegesis, his most famous work, was thus less a product of Ibn Taymiyya than that of his fideist traditionalism and his attempt to respond to the dominant Ash‘arism.