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Leiden Lectures on Arabic Language and Culture

The Leiden Lectures on Arabic Language and Culture were initiated in 2013 at the 400-year anniversary of the chair of Arabic at the university. Every year an international scholar of the highest reputation and caliber is invited to share their work to celebrate ‘the wisdom of the Arabs.’ The lectures are organized by the department of Arabic studies in cooperation with the Leiden Center for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS), the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) and the Albabtain Leiden Centre for Arabic Culture.

About the Leiden Lectures on Arabic Language and Culture

Arabic was taught at Leiden University almost from the moment it was founded in 1574, but the decision by the university board, the city of Leiden, and representatives of the newly established Republic of the Netherlands to acknowledge the fundamental significance of Arabic to the academy by financing a professorship was a watershed moment. On May 8, 1613 the first professor of Arabic, Thomas Erpenius held his inaugural lecture entitled ‘On the excellence and dignity of the Arabic language.’ He explained why knowledge of Arabic was so important, stressing that the books and ‘wisdom of the Arabs’ contained more essential information for academics and the general public than any other source.

The Leiden chair is now the oldest continuously existing one that exists outside the Arabic-speaking world. On February 4, 2013, the current professor of Arabic, Petra Sijpesteijn, commemorated this splendid history with a lecture entitled ‘The wisdom of the Arabs. 400 years of cross-cultural interaction.’ The decision was made to honour Leiden’s long and rich tradition of Arabic studies through an annual lecture series. Outstanding scholars in the field are invited to present subsequent lectures opening up the rich and enjoyable variety of classical Arabic texts and their significance and relevance for today’s world.

Lectures in this series

6 February 2024 Translating Jurjani: Why read an eleventh-century text about Arabic poetics? Lara Harb (Princeton)
7 February 2023 Why Poetry? A Sufi Response Bilal Orfali (AUB)

24 May 2022

What (and Where) on Earth is Waqwaq? Shawkat Toorawa (Yale)
6 February 2020 900 Years of Trickery: al-Hariri from Leiden to Los Angeles Michael Cooperson (UCLA)
16 May 2019 Where Have All Those Books Gone? Translocation and Provenance in Studying Medieval Middle Eastern Writerly Cultures Konrad Hirschler (Freie Universität Berlin)
15 February 2018 Feelings Matter: Emotions in Medieval Arabic Julia Bray (Oxford)
2 February 2017 A Forgotten Heyday of Arabic Culture: Literary Life in Mamluk Syria and Egypt (1250-1517 CE) Thomas Bauer (Münster)
4 February 2016 Modernity in the Ninth Century: the Controversy around Abū Tammām Beatrice Gründler (Freie Universität Berlin)
8 October 2015 Antidotes and Anecdotes: A Literary History of Medicine from 13th-Century Syria Geert Jan van Gelder (Oxford)
12 February 2015 On Hedgehogs, Foxes and Magpies, and Why the World Should Read Classical Arabic Poetry James Montgomery (Cambridge)
4 February 2013 The Wisdom of the Arabs. Four Hundred Years of Cross-Cultural Engagement Petra Sijpesteijn (Leiden)


  • The lectures by Julia Bray and Shawkat Toorawa will be published together in one volume of the Journal of the School for Abbasid Studies.
  • The lecture by Beatrice Gründler was published in Studia Islamica 112 (2017) and can be accessed here.
  • The lectures by Petra Sijpesteijn, James Montgomery, and Geert Jan van Gelder have been compiled into one publication, entitled Wit and Wisdom in Classical Arabic Literature
  • The lecture by Michael Cooperson  was published in The Journal Of Abbasid Studies (2023) and can be accessed here.
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