Tahera Qutbuddin

Tahera Qutbuddin
Professor Emerita of Arabic Literature
Taught at UChicago 2002-2023
Ph.D., Harvard University, 1999

Academic Bio

Tahera Qutbuddin was Professor of Arabic Literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago for twenty-one years, after which she took up the post of AlBabtain Laudian Professor of Arabic in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford, where she currently teaches: LINK.

She was also a member of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Committee on South Asian Studies, as well as an associate faculty member of the Divinity School, and ten-year chair of the undergraduate major Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities.


Professor Qutbuddin obtained her PhD from Harvard University, Tamhidi Magister and BA from Ain Shams University, Cairo, and high school diploma from Sophia College, Mumbai.

Research Interests

Professor Qutbuddin’s research in classical Arabic literature and Islamic studies focuses on intersections of the literary, the religious, and the political in poetry and prose. Her interests include classical Arabic poetry, orations, epistles, aphorisms, narrative, poetics, and philology; orations and sayings of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib; ethical hadith and orations of the Prophet Muhammad; Fatimid and Tayyibi Bohra poetry, history, theology, and law; literary features and symbolic exegesis of the Quran; classical Arabic women’s literature, including orations and poetry; and the history, functions, and literary genres of Arabic in India.


Professor Qutbuddin’s most recent book is a critical edition and translation of Sharīf Raḍī’s celebrated compilation of Ali’s words, Nahj al-Balāghah: The Wisdom and Eloquence of ʿAlī (Brill forthcoming). Her publications also include two monographs: Arabic Oration: Art and Function (Brill 2019, winner of Sheikh Zayed Book Award), in which she presented a comprehensive theory of this preeminent genre in its foundational oral period, 7th-8th centuries AD, and discussed its continuing influence on the contemporary Muslim sermon; and Al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī and Fatimid Daʿwa Poetry: A Case of Commitment in Classical Arabic Literature (Brill 2005), in which she analyzed the unique religio-political poetic tradition founded by this eleventh-century Fatimid Chief Dāʿī that continues among the Fatimid-Tayyibis in Yemen and India to the present day. She has also published two critical-edition-and-translation volumes, Light in the Heavens: Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (NYU 2016), and A Treasury of Virtues: Sayings, Sermons, and Teachings of ʿAli (NYU 2013). She is currently working on a book analyzing Ali’s ethical preaching and religio-political biography based on his sermons and epistles, supported by a 2020-21 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Her journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and book Introductions are available for online viewing/download at: LINK.


Professor Qutbuddin’s UChicago teaching included graduate seminars on Pre-Islamic Poetry; Nahj al-Balāghah: Virtue and Piety in the Teachings of Ali; Arabic Oration (Khutbah); Early Arabic Prose: Qurʾan, Hadith and Khutbah; Abbasid Poetry; Abbasid Prose: Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, Jāḥiẓ, Tawḥīdī, Badiʿ al-Zamān; Maqāmāt (Medieval Picaresque Tales); The Poetry of Mutanabbī; Arabic Poetics: Balāghah (ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī); and Advanced Arabic Syntax (with some Morphology, Prosody, and Rhetoric).

She also regularly taught undergraduate lecture classes that included the Core Islamic Thought and Literature I (600-950) course; Study Abroad Civilizations courses onsite in Cairo and Granada; Introduction to Arabic Poetry; Survey of Arabic Literature in Translation; Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature; and Women in Classical Arabic Literature.


Professor Qutbuddin’s UChicago PhD advisees are Thomas Hefter, Nathaniel Miller, Kevin Blankinship, Rachel Schine, Tynan Kelly, Allison Kanner-Botan, Erin Atwell, and Jeson Ng, who wrote or are writing their dissertations on the following topics: the reader in Jahiz’s epistles; tribal poetics in pre-Islamic Arabia; authorship in Maʿarrī’s writings; race and gender in Sīrat Dhāt al-Himma; the role of hadith in Arabic philology; the politics of desire in the Layla-Majnun legend; and the concept of piety (taqwā) in early Islamic texts and contemporary Egyptian preaching. She also served/serves on the PhD dissertation committees of around thirty students of Islamic History, Islamic Thought, and Persian Literature in the NELC Department, as well as students in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Divinity School.

Selected Publications

Subject Area: Arabic Language and Literature, Islamic History and Civilization, Islamic Thought