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Talk: Fiction as Islamic Historiographical Alterity

February 11, 2020

Event Type: 

Anecdotal references, ethnography, and publication statistics indicate that, in modern societies, fictionalized versions of the Islamic past have had far greater traction than ‘academic’ narratives derived from systematic evaluation of evidence. Yet, historical fiction has received little attention as a prominent site for theoretical reflection on matters such as the purpose for writing about the past and the nature of truth claims about past time. This presentation will address this arena in two steps. First, Professor Shahzad Bashir will discuss examples of modern novels in Arabic (Jurji Zaydan) and Urdu (Nasim Hijazi) to reflect on the sociopolitical purpose embedded within such works. Although keyed to varying intentions, modern historical fiction is categorically different from premodern chronicles and related works in that its purpose is sociopolitical edification rather than legitimation of ruling elites. His second step is to suggest that premodern epic literature in Islamic societies shares key features with modern fiction in the way it renders the non-contemporaneous past available to readers and listeners through affective and ethical lessons that are not predicated on chronological quantification. The ultimate suggestion is that thinking through the social logic of modern historical fiction pertaining to the Islamic past is both important in itself and a source for diversifying what we regard as legitimate sources for representing premodern societies.

This talk will be presented by Shahzad Bashir, Brown University
Director, Middle East Studies and Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities.

Sponsors: MEI and CSMS, and the Department of Religion


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