University Lecturer Arabic Literature and Culture
Peter Webb specialises in the literature and culture of pre-modern Islam. His research examines community, ethnicity and social identities in the early Islamic world, with particular focus on the origins and development of Arab identity and the stories of pre-Islam recorded in Arabic poetry and prose.
I offer supervision for MA students investigating Arabic literature from all periods, or projects on the social history and cultures of the pre-modern Muslim world. For PhD projects, I welcome proposals on topics related to Arab identity, pre-modern Arabic literature (poetry and prose), and/or social history and cultural production in pre-modern Islam.
My research focuses on the nexus between literature, memory and the construction of communal identities in Muslim societies, and the current avenues of my investigations explore the origins and evolution of Arab identity and the ways which Muslims have memorialised pre-Islam (al-Jāhiliyya).
My first book, Imagining the Arabs, reappraised conventional opinions about Arab origins by applying anthropological theories of ethnicity and identity to read early Arabic literature’s portrayal of the Arabs. Arabic poetry and prose present a remarkably varied picture of the changes and functions of ‘being Arab’ over time, and I examined the extent to which early Muslims invented the very sense of Arab identity. Currently, my interests concern how populations in the early and medieval Muslim world organised their communities, and how we can interpret the ethnic and social labels such as ‘Arab’, ‘tribe’, ‘Turk’, ‘Persian’ and others commonly encountered across pre-modern Arabic literature.
Muslim lore about pre-Islam is also a key source to explore how Muslims construct their communities and imagine their identities. From the earliest generations to the present day, Muslims have recorded pre-Islamic lore across manifold genres of literature in a wide variety of guises and with a range of different functions, and their approaches to pre-Islam have developed in step with changes in the Muslim world. I am interested in this plurality of ways in which Muslims memorialised the ancient past and how they have used pre-Islam as origin stories. My research is exploring the theoretical approaches we can employ to interpret the literature, with the aim of understanding why Muslims reconstructed the past in the ways they did and how different Muslim communities have defined themselves through negotiating legacies and memories of pre-Islam.
Peter Webb studied Arabic at SOAS, University of London and at the University of Damascus. He then qualified as a solicitor in the insolvency and restructuring law practice at Clifford Chance LLP in London before returning to academia and a Ph.D. at SOAS in Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East. Following his Ph.D., he was awarded an Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices Fellowship 2014-15 by the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin, and a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015, hosted at SOAS. He joined Leiden University in 2017.
Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam
The Excellence of the Arabs (edited and translated with James Montgomery and Sarah Savant)
“Pre-Islamic al-Shām in Classical Arabic Literature: Spatial narratives and history-telling.” Studia Islamica, 110.2 (2015), 135-164.
“Al-Jāhiliyya: Uncertain Times of Uncertain Meanings.” Der Islam, 91.1 (2014), 69-94.
- Webb P.A. (2021), Desert Places: Toponyms in Pre-Islamic Arabic Poetry, Semitica et Classica 13: 251-265.
- Webb P.A. (2020), al-Azd. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam 3.: Brill. 1-5.
- Webb P.A. (2020), The hand’s tongue: The emotional significance of artistry and writing in Islam Review of: Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom | J.R. Osborne | Luca Mozzati By the Pen and What They Write | Letters of Light | Islamic Art, TLS : the Times Literary Supplement (6106): 28-29.
- Webb P.A. (2020), Bakr b. Wā'il. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam 3.: Brill. 6-9.
- Webb & P.A. (2020), Cry me a Jāhiliyya: muslim reconstructions of pre-Islamic Arabian culture - a case study. In: Sijpesteijn P., Adang C. (Eds.) Islam at 250: Studies in Memory of G.H.A. Juynboll. Leiden: Brill. 235-280.
- Webb P.A. (2020), Ethnicity, power and Umayyad Society: the rise and fall of the people of Maʿadd. In: Marsham, A. (Ed.) The Umayyad World. London: Routledge. 65-102.
- Webb P.A. (2020), Ka'b ibn Mālik. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam 3.: Brill. 73-74.
- Webb P.A. (2020), Kalb ibn Wabara. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam 3.: Brill. 75-76.
- Webb P.A. (2020), "The Spread of Islam in Arabia: expressing conversion in poetry". In: Hurvitz, N.; Sahner, C.; Simonsohn, U.; Yarbrough, L. (Eds.) Conversion to Islam in the Pre-Modern Age. Oakland: University of California Press. 63-68.
- Webb P.A (2020), Review of: Brian Ulrich (2019) Arabs in the Early Islamic Empire: Exploring al-Azd Tribal Identity, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 83(2): 345-347.
- Webb P.A. (2019), Arabia: the land of Frankincense and myrrh. In: Whitfield S. (Ed.) Silk Roads: Peoples, Cultures, Landscapes. London: Thames and Hudson. 232-235.
- Webb P.A. (2019), Iram. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam 3.: Brill. 117-121.
- Webb P.A. (2019), Islam: a new faith on the Silk Roads. In: Whitfield S. (Ed.) Silk Roads: Peoples, Cultures, Landscapes. London: Thames and Hudson. 256-267.
- Webb P.A. (2019), The Arab Thieves: Al-Maqrīzī’s al-Ḫabar ʿan al-bašar, Vol. V, Sections 1-2 no. 6. Leiden: Brill.
- Webb P.A. (2018), Review of: Shahab Ahmed (2017) Before Orthodoxy: the Satanic Verses in Early Islam, Journal of Arabic Literature 49: 162-167.
- Webb P.A. (2017), Identity and Social Formation in the Early Caliphate. In: Berg H. (Ed.) Routledge Handbook on Early Islam. London: Routledge. 129-158.
- Ibn Qutaybah (2017), The Excellence of the Arabs [Fadl al-'Arab wa-l-tanbih 'ala 'ulumiha] (translation: Montgomery J., Savant S. & Webb P.A.). New York and Abu Dhabi: New York University Press.
- Webb P.A. (2017), Review of: Harry Munt (2014) The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia, The British Foundation for the Study of Arabia Bulletin 22: 43-45.
- Webb & Peter (2016), Review of: Konrad Hirschler Medieval Damascus: Plurality and Diversity in an Arabic Library, TLS : the Times Literary Supplement .
- Webb P.A. (2016), Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- Webb P.A. (2016), Muḥammad und die gāhiliyya: Die vorislamische Zeit im prophetischen ḥadīt. In: Schmidt Nora, Schmid Nora K, Neuwirth Angelika (Eds.) Denkraum Spätantike. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. 447-466.
- Webb P.A. (2016), The origin of Arabs: Middle Eastern ethnicity and myth-making, British Academy Review 27(1): 34-39.
- Webb P.A. (2016), Review of: Greg Fisher (Ed.) Arabs and Empires before Islam, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 79(3): 640-642.
- Webb P.A. (2015), Pre-Islamic al-Shām in Classical Arabic Literature: Spatial narratives and history-telling, Studia Islamika 110(2): 1-30.
- Webb P.A. (2015), Review of: Robert Hoyland (2015) In God's Path, TLS : the Times Literary Supplement .
- Webb P.A. (2015), Review of: Aziz al-Azmeh (2014) The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity, Al-ʿUṣūr al-Wusṭā 23: 149-153.
- Webb P.A. (2014), Al-Jāhiliyya: Uncertain Times of Uncertain Meanings, Der Islam 91(1): 69-94.
- Webb P.A. (2013), Poetry and the Early Islamic Historical Tradition: Poetry and narratives of the Battle of Ṣiffīn. In: Kennedy Hugh (Ed.) Poetry and Warfare in Middle Eastern Literatures. London: IB Tauris. 119-141.
- Webb P.A. (2013), The Hajj before Muhammad: Journeys to Mecca in Muslim Narratives of Pre-Islamic History. In: Saif Liana, Porter Venetia (Eds.) The Hajj: Collected Papers. London: British Museum Press. 6-14.
- Webb P.A. (2013), Review of: Geert Jan van Gelder (2012) Classical Arabic Literature, TLS : the Times Literary Supplement .
- Webb P.A. (2012), Review of: Tom Holland In the Shadow of the Sword, Evening Standard .
- Webb P.A. (2012), ‘Foreign Books’ in Arabic Literature: discourses on books, knowlegde and ethnicity in the writings of al-Jahiz, Arabica: Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies/Arabica: Revue d'Etudes Arabes 12(1): 16-55.
- Webb P.A. (2012), Muhammad’s ascension to the Heavenly Spheres: ‘Utopian Travel’: Fact and Fiction in making Utopias, Middle Eastern Literatures 15(3): 240-256.
- Webb P.A. (2012), Review of: Malcolm Lyons (2012) The Man of Wiles in Popular Arabic Literature, TLS : the Times Literary Supplement .
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