Despite Covid-19-related restrictions, the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities was able to maintain its focus on promoting the use of Arabic in European universities at this year’s annual summer school.
Launched in 2014, the school’s events aim at facilitating exchanges between young and established scholars and at fostering the use of Arabic as an active academic language in Arabic studies in European universities.
“I was able to look closely at a number of interdisciplinary research projects, all presented in Arabic, although they were originally written in a foreign language,” said Dani Nassif, a Lebanese Ph.D. candidate at Germany’s University of Münster.
Nassif, who was also the technical coordinator of the summer school’s events this year, even saw a silver lining in the Covid-19 restrictions which meant that all sessions and workshops had to be held online.
“This is my first time to participate in organizing an online academic event in all its aspects,” he said. “This helped me develop many skills to deal with new challenges, like organizing and coordinating online sessions, and recording and sharing presentation videos on the Internet.”
Organized on the theme of “In Search of the Reader: New Approaches to Practices, Functions and Histories of Reading in Arabic Literature, Arts, Media and Culture,” this year’s online program brought together scholars from Arab and European universities specialized in literature, art history, cultural studies, social sciences, and history.
“I was able to look closely at a number of interdisciplinary research projects, all presented in Arabic, although they were originally written in a foreign language.”Dani Nassif
A Lebanese Ph.D. candidate at the University of Münster
An Opportunity to Develop Language Skills
The summer school is part of the activities of the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities, an organization mainly funded by the German government. (See a related article, “A Small Network of Arab and German Academics Aspires to Have a Large Impact.”)
During its sessions, Ph.D. and postdoctoral students are given the opportunity to present and discuss their research in an international context and to actively practice the language (Arabic or English) they are less versed in.
The 2021 program included contributions on topics ranging from post-2003 war Iraqi fiction and the treatment of refugees in 21st-century Arabic fiction, to the renewal of jurisprudence at the end of the Mamluk era; from the Hassaniya folk tale in Morocco to the use of Tunisian dialects in the public space.
Khairy Douma, a professor and head of the Arabic department at the Faculty of Arts of Cairo University, and Richard Jacquemond, a French Arabist and professor at Aix-Marseille University, commented on the sessions.
The two keynote speakers were Konrad Hirschler, a German scholar, whose talk was titled “Researching Reading Practices in the Age of Manuscripts,” Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, from the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, whose topic was “A Variant Reading of Contemporary Arab Thought: The Visual Art Perspective.”
Arabic in the Academic Field
Douma emphasized that meetings between scholars were conducted on an equal footing. “Open discussions contribute to the production of new knowledge about the Arab world,” he said.
“I benefited greatly from the diversity of the lectures, during which I got acquainted with professors and colleagues from different universitiesNevine Fayek
A Ph.D. student at the University of Münster
Students insisted on speaking in Arabic, he said, adding: “The discussions reinforce the presence of Arabic in the academic field and its usage throughout the sessions as an academic language was on an equal basis with other languages.”
For his part, Nassif said that “by developing the concept of critical reviews, I learned from the way supervisors ask questions and present their research proposals.” He was also pleased to get to know researchers who share his interests. “We can all benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience in the hope of doing joint work in the future,” he said.
Nevine Fayek, a Ph.D. student at the University of Münster, also said she “benefited greatly from the diversity of the lectures, during which I got acquainted with professors and colleagues from different universities.”
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While Douma does not place high hopes on the contribution of the summer school’s programs to changing the Orientalist view of the Arab world, he hopes that new generations of scholars will emerge with a better awareness of what is going on in the Arab world.
“Most of the participants graduated from universities operating in the region, and therefore they are not far from the Arab situation,” he said. “However, because they live abroad, they are not fully involved in its issues.”
To read more on the use of Arabic as an academic language, see the following articles from Al-Fanar Media’s archives: