Translating Race in the Islamic Studies Classroom


travel writing
popular literature
medieval studies
premodern race
Islamic Studies
Arabic literature


This article offers a set of race-conscious approaches to teaching premodern Arabic texts in translation, tailored to courses in Islamic studies and related subject areas. Throughout, I address the productive tension generated by the fact that many contemporary translations do not consistently signpost moments of racial thinking as such despite the increase in scholarship on medieval race and racism as well as in the call, on the part of students, to grapple with racialization in our course materials. On the one hand, I argue that such translations can perpetuate what Kimberlé Crenshaw dubs “perspectivelessness” by discursively disengaging from race in various ways, but on the other, I contend that this opens opportunities for critical reading of translation practices as well as of the historical source texts themselves. I offer guided readings of nine Arabic texts in translation from two major press series—Penguin Classics and the Library of Arabic Literature—that lend themselves to classroom use, in which I demonstrate how to foster reading with race in mind. In doing so, I offer an extended meditation on racialization as a comparative and historicizable hermeneutic for understanding premodern Islamic histories and literatures.
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