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Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature
On leave 2016-17
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. His book, Language Between God and the Poets, will be published by the University of California Press in 2018. With chapters on lexicography (ar-Rāġib al-Iṣfahānī), theology (Ibn Fūrak), logic (Ibn Sīnā), and poetics (ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Ǧurǧānī), it argues for a cohesive understanding of maʿnā and ḥaqīqah across these disciplines in the eleventh century, and for a new approach to the translation of Arabic core conceptual vocabulary. Those two words roughly equate to “mental content” and “accurate account,” but there are no words in English that do the work they did in Arabic.
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 upcoming 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, comparative poetics, and the duty to translate in Islam.”
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." He is a founding editor of the double-blind peer-reviewed journal for early career scholars: New Middle Eastern Studies.
Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University, May 2012.
M.A. in Arabic and International Relations, University of St. Andrews, June 2001.