Tahera Qutbuddin

Professor of Arabic Literature
Pick Hall 212
Ph.D., Harvard University, 1999
Teaching at UChicago since 2002

Academic Bio

I am a scholar of classical Arabic literature and Islamic studies focusing on intersections of the literary, the religious, and the political in classical Arabic poetry and prose. My research interests include ¤ Arabic oratory and Islamic preaching ¤ Literary features and symbolic exegesis of the Quran ¤ Ethical hadith traditions of the Prophet Muhammad ¤ Sermons of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib ¤ Broad features of classical Arabic poetry ¤ Women from the Family of the Prophet ¤ Fatimid and Tayyibi (Da’udi Bohra) Shi’i doctrine, history, and literature, particularly the thought of al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi and Sayyidna Tahir Sayf al-Din, and ¤ Arabic in India.

Since 2002, I have been a professor of Arabic literature and Islamic studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. I am also a member of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, associate faculty of the Divinity School, and ten-year chair of the undergraduate major Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities (2009-2019). I obtained my PhD (1999) and MA (1994) from Harvard University, Tamhidi Magister (1990) and BA (1988) from Ain Shams University, Cairo, and high school diploma (1984) from Sophia College, Mumbai.

My latest monograph is Arabic Oration: Art and Function (Brill, 2019, Winner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award 2021), in which I present a comprehensive theory of this preeminent genre in its foundational oral period, 7th-8th centuries AD, and discuss its continuing influence on the contemporary Muslim sermon. My current projects include editing and translating al-Sharif al-Radi’s compilation of Ali’s sermons titled Path of Eloquence (Nahj al-balaghah), as well as a monograph on Ali’s religio-political career and ethical preaching based on his sermons and epistles, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship (2020-21).

I serve as consulting editor of NYU Press’s Library of Arabic Literature series, Brill’s Shii Islam: Texts and Studies series, and Brill’s journal Al-Markaz: Majallat al-Dirāsāt al-ʿArabiyya; also as a director of the Qutbi Jubilee Scholarship Program, Mumbai, and of its interfaith harmony conference series, Taqreeb.

My graduate students work on a range of subjects: the reader in Jahiz’s epistles, tribal poetics in pre-Islamic Arabia, authorship in Ma’arri’s writings, race and gender in Sirat Dhat al-Himma, and the role of hadith in Arabic philology. I also serve on the dissertation committees of students working in the fields of Islamic history, Islamic Thought, and Persian Literature, as well as students in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Divinity School.

Recent Public Talks, Available Online (links below)

Early Islamic Oration: Rhetoric, Religion, and Ritual. The 2022 Nuveen Lecture at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School (October 20, 2022). LINK

Piety, Ethics, and Politics in the Friday Sermon of Islam. Virtual lecture at Arizona State University, Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies (October 17, 2022). LINK (abstract), LINK (YouTube video).

Hadha Ana Talk Show with Nada Al Shaibani, Abu Dhabi Television (June 19, 2021): LINK

Normative Islam and Denominational Identities: Points of Unity and Difference among Sunni and Shia Muslims. Presentation at Brigham Young University in public conference titled “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives” Provo, Utah (October 18-19, 2021). LINK

Meet the Scholar: Snapshots of Intellectual Journeys. Video interview with Professor Sara Omar, Georgetown University, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies 2021: https://arabic.georgetown.edu/meet-the-scholar-tahera-qutbuddin/ 

Art and Power of Arabic Oration (Khutba): Past and Present. NYU Abu Dhabi Zoom Webinar 2021: LINK

Arabic Oration: Art and Function. CMES Ventures podcast 2020: https://soundcloud.com/uchicago-cmes/arabic-oration-art-and-function

Virtues project podcast, interview, 2016: https://thevirtueblog.com/2016/11/30/virtue-talk-podcast-universal-human-virtues-tahera-qutbuddin/

Selected Publications

Recent & Regularly Taught Courses

  • NEHC 20601/30601 Islamic Thought & Literature-1
  • ARAB 40101-40102 Advanced Arabic Syntax I-II
  • ARAB 40383 Seminar: Poetry (Al-Mutanabbi)
  • ARAB 40486: Abbasid Prose
  • ARAB 20381/ 30381: Introduction to Arabic Poetry
  • ARAB 40630/ISLM 40631: Balagha Seminar: Jurjani
  • ARAB 40629/ISLM 40629: Nahj al-balagha: Virtue & Piety in the Teachings of Ali
Affiliated Departments and Centers: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Committee on South Asian Studies, Divinity School
Subject Area: Arabic Language and Literature, Islamic History and Civilization, Islamic Thought