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CSI'S Monday Majlis: Johannes Stephan

Kalīla and Dimna and the Anthological Epistemology of adab

The CSI Monday Majlis is a Monday evening, online event, where invited speakers present on aspects of their current research

Event details

We’d like to invite you to the next online Monday Majlis of the Centre for the Study of Islam, Exeter:
Monday the 20th of February, 17:00-18:30 (UK time)
Johannes Stephan, Kalīla and Dimna and the Anthological Epistemology of adab

Registration is required.
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In my presentation, I focus on the reception history of the book Kalīla wa-Dimna between the 9th and 13th centuries CE, which was known as the Indian book in the Arabic context. In doing so, I attempt to reconstruct what the Arabic Kalīla wa-Dimna might have looked like before the early 13th century, to which we do not have access due to the manuscript situation. This intertextual endeavor also offers fruitful insights into how wisdom literature is perceived and incorporated into the Arabo-Islamic context of adab, and is thus also a step towards deciphering what adab is actually about. I will therefore present how the reception of Kalīla wa-Dimna's wisdom not only helps to reconstruct some aspects of the book tradition, but also reveals how the inclusion of wisdom literature is embedded in an epistemology that carries specific ethical implications. I refer to this as an anthological epistemology, that is, an attitude toward knowledge rooted in grasping new snippets of wisdom through the use of cognitive association – similes, parables, analogies. Such an attitude has implications for understanding the ethics of reading and learning on the one hand, and appropriate situational understanding and behavior on the other. Kalīla wa-Dimna, I will argue, is among the first specimen in Arabic literature of introducing an integrative Islamic mode of thinking based on a mediation between what is commonly known and accepted and the creativity and innovation necessary to engage with new contexts.


Johannes Stephan is a scholar of Arabic literature with a special interest in understanding notions of narrative and literature in pre-modern and early modern contexts. He studied Arabic and Islamic Studies in Halle, Damascus, and Bern, where he also earned his PhD and taught a wide range of subjects. He is currently working as a PostDoc in the  project Arabic Literature Cosmopolitan, funded by the DFG Leibniz Prize (PI B. Gruendler) at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he is investigating the early Arabic reception (8th-13th centuries) of Kalīla and Dimna, elaborating the concepts of narrative framing, fictionality, and intertextuality, while also being interested in the linguistic registers of Arabic in the early modern period. He is the editor of the Book of Travels by Ḥannā Diyāb, the most famous storyteller of the Arabian Nights, published with the Library of Arabic Literature.


In the spirit of the label ‘Majlis’ and also to make the talks even more interesting, we are experimenting with a new format presenting the topic discussed by our speaker as embedded in their own research journey. Please come and enjoy the talks and the discussions.
If you’d like to be included in the CSI (Centre for the Study of Islam (Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter) mailing list, please contact the CSI Manager: Sarah Wood (

We’ll be happy to welcome you!
Istvan T Kristó-Nagy