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Alexander Key



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Alexander Key

Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature

Alexander Key is a scholar of Classical Arabic literature whose interests range across the intellectual history of the Arabic and Persian-speaking worlds from the seventh century onwards. In Language Between God and the Poets (Berkeley: 2018), he reads four major eleventh-century scholars and asks how the conceptual vocabulary they shared enabled them to create theory in lexicography, theology, logic, and poetics. These scholars' ideas engaged God and poetry at the nexus of language, mind, and reality. Their core conceptual vocabulary carved reality at the joints in a manner quite different from Anglophone and European thought in any period. Their vocabulary centered around the words maʿnā and ḥaqīqah, two concepts for which Key develops a translation methodology with the help of Wittgenstein and Kuhn.

Key received his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in May 2012 and started work at Stanford that same year. He has authored a number of articles on aspects of Classical Arabic literature and culture. These include a study of translations from Persian proverbs into Arabic poetry, a chapter co-authored with Peter Adamson on the debate between grammar and logic, a study of Quranic inimitability in ar-Raghib, and an argument against calling Classical Arabic civilization "humanist."

He is currently working on questions of comparative poetics, with a forthcoming contribution to a kitabkhana dealing with Innovations and Turning Points: towards a history of kāvya literature in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a forthcoming JAOS review of Ali Ahmed Hussein’s The Rhetorical Fabric of the Traditional Arabic Qasida in Its Formative Stages, a study of the interaction between genre and Neoplatonism for the British Academy conference "Faces of the Infinite: Neoplatonism and Poetics at the Confluence of Africa, Asia and Europe," a contribution on translation of Persian poetry for a special issue of JAS that he is organizing on the Classical Arabic critic ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Ǧurǧānī, and an article in progress with the working title “There are no allegories in Egypt: formalism in comparative poetics.”

Beyond his research, Key teaches a survey of the canon of Arabic poetry from before Islam to the present day, a survey of great Arabic books across a similar period, and an undergraduate course on the "Ethics of Jihad."

For more details on off-CV academic activities go to Tumblr. For copies of some publications, And for tweets, @AlexanderMKey.



2012: Ph.D., Arabic and Islamic Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
2001: M.A., Arabic and International Relations, University of St. Andrews


COMPLIT 194 Independent Research
COMPLIT 252A Great Arabic Poetry
COMPLIT 252B Great Arabic Prose
COMPLIT 399 Individual Work
COMPLIT 802 TGR Dissertation
DLCL 189B Honors Thesis Seminar
DLCL 189C Honors Thesis Seminar
DLCL 199 Honors Thesis Oral Presentation
DLCL 227 Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew Languages, Literatures, and Cultures