The Oslo Arabic Seminar (OsAr)

- A Multidisciplinary Approach to Arabic

”Will not some Arabic scholar give us a literal Latin rendering of a few pages of this MS?” (*)

(*) Lorimer, W. L., "Plato in Afghanistan and India", The American Journal of Philology 53/2 (1932): 160.

al-Suyuti's Muzhir

This page hosts information about the Oslo Arabic Seminar, which organises a number of weekly reading-groups for the study of medieval Arabic texts, and is based at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS), University of Oslo (Blindern Campus). Go to the pages of IKOS or see a map here. For contact info see below. For details about current activities check the semester page of each seminar.

Anyone is free to participate and previous knowledge of Arabic is not a requirement for all seminars. The OsAr Seminar thus provides both an opportunity for néophytes to learn Arabic through reading specific texts or text-types (preferably relevant for their own studies or research), and an opportunity for thoroughly arabicised philologists to broaden their horizons and deepen their knowledge by collectively plunging into the textual universe of medieval Arabic literature. Please scroll down and read more about OsAr texts and contexts.

NB I am using this page now to experiment a bit with different layouts, etc. It is online but still not a finished page. The OsAr project itself is also in an early experimental stage.

If you experience technical difficulties with this page (e.g. if the fonts do not display correctly), go here for possible solutions. You should check the print layout before printing anything from this page, since I have not pre-formatted all pages for printing.

Spring 2010: There are currently two running seminars, one part of the OsAr GRAR seminar: Aristotle's Analytica Priora (semester page here); The other is part of the OsAr NAT seminar: Euclid's Elements (semester page here);

In addition, we might be reading sporadically Aristotle's Rhetoric (contact us, or go here, if you're interested).


Hariri's Maqamat

Pyxide Arabic was the main language of the great Islamic civilisation, which through a period of over 1000 years was one of the most powerful forces in shaping the history of the entire civilised world, covering a vast geographical area, from the ancient heartlands of Sumerian and Akkadian culture and the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean area to large parts of Africa and the East. Initially a relatively small language of Bedouins and groups of traders and mercenaries, Arabic eventually became with the Islamic conquests the main lingua franca of trade and high culture in greater parts of the then civilised world. Arabic is also the language of an extremely rich literature covering all major aspects of human creativity, from poetry and belletristic prose, mysticism and philosophy to the technical literature of the Islamic religious disciplines and the natural sciences. Arabic is further probably the only language that, in the eyes of believers, goes beyond human creativity in being the vehicle of divine revelation as embodied in the Qur’ān.

Pyxide The Oslo Arabic Seminar is a permanent meeting-place for all seekers of knowledge interested in some aspect of the written heritage of the Arabic-Islamic civilisation. The seminar provides an opportunity to get intimately familiar with original Arabic texts from the medieval period (i.e. 'Classical Arabic' texts). The main purpose of the seminar is to bring together students and scholars from various disciplines in order to study major Arabic texts from the great religious and scientific traditions of medieval Islamic civilisation. We read chosen excerpts from a variety of text-types, including philosophical texts, Arabic translations from Greek philosophical and scientific works, Arabic scientific works (medicine, mathematics, physics, etc.), historical and geographical texts (including anthropological and sociological works and travel literature), Islamic exegetical, legal, theological and linguistic texts, Christian and Jewish texts composed in Arabic, early Arabic prose and the even earlier pre-Islamic Bedouin poetic texts.

Close reading

The main focus is always close reading of original Arabic texts, and participants with little or no previous knowledge of Arabic must simply determine whether their knowledge of (or ability to rapidly acquire a sufficient knowledge of) written Arabic in the genre or text-type in question, will enable them to participate. The seminars are in principle open for anyone interested and previous knowledge of Arabic is not neccessarily required for participation (depending on the set-up of the current seminars). In fact, one of the objectives of OsAr is to provide an environment for learning Arabic through philological reading of texts that are relevant for the participants' own field of research. The pedagogical method could be called assisted autodidactics, and learning should be greatly facilitated by focusing on texts from a discipline with conceptual schemes and terminological systems already familiar to the participant (say, medicine, mathematics, theology, Aristotelian logic, Greek philosophy, etc.). We aim to open up and demystify the textual universe of medieval Arabic literature by giving participants direct access to the primary sources and the basic tools needed for an independent study and research of the texts in question (dictionaries, secondary sources and online tools, methodological approaches specific to the history of medieval Islamic civilisation, etc.). Please check the semester pages of the relevant seminars or contact us for further information.

Organisation of Seminars

Sufi hierarchy Pyxide

The Oslo Arabic Seminar is organised as a group of thematically oriented seminars broadly following a "classification of sciences" scheme (i.e. the medieval Arabic and later Latin classification of the sciences as seen in works like al-Fārābī's Iḥṣāʾ al-ʿulūm or al-Ḫwārizmī's Mafātīḥ al-ʿulūm but including also, e. g., al-Bīrūnī's manifestly "anthropological" approach and of course the new science self-consciously "invented" by Ibn Ḫaldūn, the ʿilm al-ʿumrān, often translated or at least rendered as "sociology"). Each seminar thus has as its focus a discipline or a scientific tradition, and the texts will always be explicitly related to this context and studied in conjunction with a broader view of the history of the discipline, etc. Thus, although the main purpose of all seminars is to read texts in their original Arabic form (including manuscripts, if possible) and discuss the purely linguistic aspects of the texts (morphology and syntax, but above all lexical and semantic aspects), much weight will also be given to the discussion of historical and contextual interpretation of the texts. In this way, philologists and arabists will inform the specialists of the discipline in question (say, history of mathematics, sociology, anthropology, theology, etc.) and the specialists can make significant contributions to the philologists with their broader knowledge of the discipline, thus ensuring a truly multidisciplinary activity.

The format is completely open, but typically there will be a two-hour reading session each week for each seminar. Usually two, maximum three, seminars will be held each academic semester. We can, however, help organise further seminars if anyone is interested in leading a seminar that falls within our program. In this case we can provide materials, assistance and perhaps participants. It would also be possible, in principle, to "export" the seminar in a condensed format (intensive courses) to other, mainly Norwegian, universities or other institutions, should this be requested.


The activities of the seminar are still not integrated into any university structure, and are not part of any "program" at the University of Oslo. This is partially necessary to secure a policy of free and informal participation and is therefore an objective in itself, but should any institution wish to integrate the OsAr seminar or a specific sub-seminar into their program (Master studies, PhD studies, etc.) we will certainly encourage this and do our best to cooperate. In fact, the open format of the seminars, with multidisciplinary participation of both students and specialist researchers (including invited guest lecturers and integrated workshops, for example), is clearly an environment in which students can meet real challenges, aquire important methodological and factual knowledge, and in general be encouraged and stimulated to continue their line of research in cooperation with scientific communities from other academic fields. One could imagine students writing seminar papers that would be assessed by a joint committe composed of one or several specialists from the OsAr seminar and the "home institution". Please contact us if your institution might be interested in cooperating with us in any way.


 Basic Reading List

Grammar, teaching manuals and dictionaries. A more detailed bibliography will be found here. Please note that many of the works listed below are available in more recent editions or reprints.