This article recovers a dissonant voice from the nineteenth-century nahḍa. Antonius Ameuney (1821–1881) was a fervent Protestant and staunch Anglophile. Unlike his Ottoman Syrian contemporaries, who argued for religious diversity and the formation of a civil society based on a shared Arab past, he believed that the only geopolitical Syria viable in the future was one grounded in Protestant virtues and English values. This article examines Ameuney’s complicated journey to become a Protestant Englishman and his inescapable characterization as a son of Syria. It charts his personal life and intellectual career and explores how he interpreted the religious, cultural, political, and linguistic landscape of his birthplace to British audiences. As an English-speaking Ottoman Syrian intellectual residing permanently in London, the case of Antonius Ameuney illustrates England to have been a constitutive site of the nahḍa and underscores the role played by the British public in shaping nahḍa discourses.
This article focuses on the Arabic manuscript collection of the Near Eastern School of Theology (NEST). The NEST library contains several manuscripts that were donated, copied, or read by important Christian-born intellectuals of the nahḍa. Given these men’s role in the emergence of modern publishing in the Middle East, I examine the intersections between their scribal and printing activities. I also discuss works of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in the NEST’s collection. Most of these are by late medieval and early modern authors and contain extensive commentaries and glosses. This commentary culture was a key site of learning throughout the early modern Ottoman Empire and endured among Christian as well as Muslim intellectuals of the nahḍa movement. The persistence of these scribal and intellectual traditions reveals a longue durée of Islamicate scholarly traditions that is only beginning to be understood by historians of Arab modernity.
What is the language of heaven? Is Arabic the only language allowed in the eternal world of the virtuous, or will Muslims continue to speak their native languages in the other world? While learned scholars debated the language of heaven since the early days of Islam, the question gained renewed vigor in seventeenth century Istanbul against the background of a puritan reform movement which criticized the usage of Persian and the Persianate canon as sacred text. In response, Mevlevī authors argued for the discursive authority of the Persianate mystical canon in Islamic tradition (sunna). Focusing on this debate, this article argues that early modern Ottoman authors recognized non-legal discourses as integral and constitutive parts of the Islamic tradition. By adopting the imagery of bilingual heaven, they conceptualized Islamic tradition as a diverse discursive tradition. Alongside diversity, another important feature of Persianate Islam was a positive propensity towards innovations.
On a trip to South India in the early 1850s, the German missionary Karl Graul collected a library of Tamil books. His library contains some of the first books that Tamils edited and published for Tamil audiences. This article analyses the Shaiva and Vaishnava works in this collection, arguing that in this early period of Tamil publishing, Tamil Hindus turned to print in part to counter Christian evangelisation. They edited and published texts previously transmitted on manuscripts, in order to build a corpus of Shaiva and Vaishnava printed books that would challenge the Christian monopoly of Tamil print. The article focuses on the editing activities and institutional affiliations of Tamil Shaiva editors, most importantly the prominent scholar Vedagiri Mudaliyar.
Michael Allan and Gauri Viswanathan discuss connections among philology, literary history, and religion, drawing from writers such as Edward Said, B.R. Ambedkar, Zora Neale Hurston, Louis Massignon, and Kumud Pawde. The conversation was initially conducted via Zoom on September 2, 2020, and collaboratively edited for readability.
With the rise of ethnic politics in Nepal, the Limbu (or: Yakthumba) have made increasing use of the Limbu script, also known as Srijanga or Kiranti. Whereas in the past this script was suppressed by the state and known only to a minority, since the return of democracy to Nepal in the 1990s a new literature using this script has come into being. Here, religious books play a prominent role. This essay deals with the emerging importance of the script as a marker of ethnicity since its first general propagation by Iman Singh Chemjong and Phalgunanda Lingden in the early twentieth century. It focuses on the early production of printed books, in particular books published by followers of the Satyahangma movement, which promotes reforms of Kiranti religion and society.
This article presents three recitation versions of two tales from the famous Vetālapañcaviṃśati (VP; the “Twenty-Five Tales of an Animated Corpse”, a medieval Sanskrit anthology of riddle-tales) that made their way orally from South Asia to Europe. The original work is one of the rare Sanskrit texts to have been disseminated widely and over a long period of time. It is a work that has thrived in oral, manuscript and printed versions. The stories in question, recorded in Germany as retold by three Nepali prisoners of war during World War I, show how this pre-modern Indian textual tradition was received into modern vernaculars and recounted in modern settings. It documents the fluidity of texts as dependent on the reciter’s, scribe’s or publisher’s own outlook, as well as on differing times and circumstances. In addition to the text’s long history of transmission, colonialism and print capitalism were further factors that influenced the retelling of the VP.
Rethinking Arabic literary modernity, this article addresses what the act of reading means as Morocco moves from manuscript to print. In 1941, a leading figure of Morocco’s nahḍa, al-Tuhāmī al-Wazzānī, began to serialize his autobiography al-Zāwiya in one of the country’s earliest newspapers. Heralded as Morocco’s first novel, the moment marks the inauguration of a new reading public. Yet the text does not rely upon the reconfigured relationship with the reader accompanying the rise of print cultures in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Zāwiya is a Sufi autobiography, a genre that invites its readers to assimilate the actions found within its pages. Al-Wazzānī draws upon this long tradition, using intertextual engagement to create a space of discourse that complicates the presumed secularity of Arabic literature during the nahḍa. Early Moroccan print culture thus provides an opportunity to reconsider the continuities of tradition embedded within modern literary practices.
The study of the history of print technology in South Asia is a multidisciplinary enterprise which involves attentive consideration of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region, as well as of the historical time in which print technology was massively adopted, namely the colonial period. Here, we focus on the complex fabric of relationships between print and modes of recording and using texts in long present oral and manuscript cultures, also pointing out the limits of applying interpretative models based on the cultural history of Europe to the histories of print in South Asia. Furthermore, we present aspects of the formative stage of print cultures concerning Vedic, Limbu, Nepali, Newari, and Tamil textual traditions—which are studied in the essays of this special issue. This multi-layered perspective helps making sense of social and cultural dynamics concerning the uses of printed books, the (new) meanings associated with them, and the formation of hegemonic configurations within literary and religious traditions.
In late nineteenth-century Nepal, the advent of print and mass reproduction marked a critical and as yet understudied junction in Nepal’s literary history and attendant manuscript and print cultures. This article employs Nepal’s popular Svasthānīvratakathā to illuminate key shifts and intersections between language of composition, technologies of writing, places of composition or reproduction, and the agents of transmission that are emblematic of local manuscript practices and paradigmatic of the emergent print culture in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Nepal. The practices and actors involved in Svasthānī transmission shifted the text away from the private, domestic sphere to the public, translocal realm on multiple levels. Attending to these shifts as evidenced in one living devotional tradition indexes significant developments and intersections that deepen our knowledge of the changing linguistic, technological, geocultural, and socioeconomic aspects of the literary landscape in Nepal and South Asia more broadly.