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Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature
Director of Undergraduate Studies
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. Language Between God and the Poets (Berkeley: 2018) explains Classical Arabic theories about poetry and philosophy to all who are interested in how language produces affect and reflects the world.
The book deals with multiple genres of scholarship in the work of four famous scholars: Ragib al-Isfahani, Ibn Furak, Ibn Sina, and ʿAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani. Their detailed theories about how language works remain applicable today: we still want to understand how poetry works through syntax to create affect, and we are still interested in the problem of how language, mind, and reality interact. Language Between God and the Poets makes Classical Arabic solutions to these problems available for the first time in twenty-first-century English – within a rigorous and original theoretical framework for the translation of theory.
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."
In 2018, Key guest-edited the Journal of Abbasid Studies, with a special issue on the literary critic ʿAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani that included his article on al-Jurjani's bilingual theory of translation from Persian into Arabic.
He is currently working on questions of comparative poetics, with a recent 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, and a forthcoming 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."
Key teaches, inter alia, 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 the new "Middle East" track in the Humanities Core.
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