ARA4506 – Key Concepts of Arabic Language and Culture – A Comparative Analysis

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Course content

How does “culture” translate into Arabic – thaqāfa? ḥaḍāra? Or, rather, ’adab? What is the origin and semantic history of these terms? What, actually, does sharî‘a mean, and what are the connotations of politico-cultural or ethical keywords like ’aṣâla or karâma? Is ḥurriyya the same as “freedom”? What are the historical and contemporary cultural backgrounds to be observed when equating Christian “mercy” with Islamic raḥma?

Understanding a foreign culture implies understanding the concepts with which it conceives, structures, and linguistically represents the realities of its life-worlds. This course highlights Arab(ic) culture through an analysis of the etymology, semantic history and contemporary use of terms of particular significance for the Arabs’ mental and cultural history and present, such as modes of living, cultural techniques, religion, philosophy, science, social organisation, politics, morals/ethics, etc. It compares these key concepts to what may be their Western counterparts, and vice versa, in this way aiming to train the student’s competence as a “translator between the cultures”.

The course is directly connected to the teacher’s research project of an Etymological Dictionary of Arabic Language and Culture (EDALC) and is taught as a highly inter- and transdisciplinary enterprise. It is targeted for students with an interest in language and cross-cultural comparison, combining linguistic competence with the anthropological questions of cultural studies and an interest in the history of concepts.

Learning outcome

You become familiar with (and develop a positively critical stance towards) the basic ideas and operations of the history of concepts (Begriffsgeschichte, begrepshistorie) through reading and discussing some exemplary studies on European as well as Arab(ic) concepts. You get sensitized for the set of problems arising when conveying culturally significant terminology from one linguistic and cultural context to another. You will get insight into some aspects of cultural history, both Western and Middle Eastern, and sharpen your awareness of its impact on the challenges of cross-cultural communication and understanding.
You learn to sketch, and will actually write, an encyclopedia entry-like essay on a term of your own choice. You receive guidance as to how/where to find the sources and reference literature you need to meet this challenge.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

You have to have admission as a Master’s student to the Program for Asian and African Studies


Formal prerequisite knowledge

ARA2110 (Arabisk språk 3+4) or equivalent. Fluency in reading English reference literature.

Recommended previous knowledge

Other languages, especially German and French, would be helpful.


Lectures/seminars with presentation and discussion of pensum material in the first sessions, followed by sessions serving the practical preparation of the students’ term papers: choice of topic (a term/concept), search, presentation and discussion of relevant material, developing adequate approach, and sketching the essay (term paper, see below).
Lectures and seminars may be conducted in English, but students should feel free to use Norwegian.

There will be 10 sessions à 2 hours.
Teaching takes place throughout the semester (dates are open to negotiation).


Term paper (encyclopedia-like essay), 8-10 pages (18-22 000 characters including spaces, 12 pt, 1.5 lines; footnotes and appendices excluded).
The term paper/essay can be written in English or Norwegian (or Danish, Swedish).

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Periodic evaluation


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Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

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