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Text and Transmission


Admission Requirements

Students should be able to use Arabic text sources, which form the core of the material studied and discussed in class. Students should also have a relevant BA degree and have knowledge of Arabic at BA-level.

Admission to the MA Arabic, Persian and Turkish Languages and Cultures, the MA Islamic Studies, or the MA Islamic Theology is required. Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os or Prof.dr. P.M. Sijpesteijn, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of the one of the above-mentioned MA programmes.


Using original examples from the University of Leiden’s rich manuscript collection, problems of text transmission and methods of text edition will be discussed, with a focus on: (1) The internal history of texts: manuscripts and the methodology of accounting for variant readings in critical editions; and (2) The history of reception: the ways in which older texts are quoted, paraphrased or otherwise incorporated into the works of later authors and the methods of studying such intertextual phenomena. The function of written texts, issues of oral versus written transmission and textual authority will also be explored.

Overview of class topics:

  • Bibliography: sources and problems

  • What is a critical edition?

  • Quranic exegesis: a testcase of intertextuality

  • Bindings, ink and paper: Technical aspects of manuscripts

  • Can western editing techniques be applied to Arabic manuscripts?

  • Authorship and ownership

  • Editing papyrus documents

  • Archives and archiving in the Middle East

  • Travelling texts (through time and place)

  • Muslim scholarship and writing

  • Transfer of knowledge

Course objectives

  • to navigate all the issues involved in the transmission of pre-modern Arabic texts;

  • to understand how critical editions are composed;

  • to be aware of the different methodologies and theories involved in preparing editions;

  • to be aware of changing attitudes towards authorship, textual ownership and criticism;

  • to become familiar with the main reference works used in the study of medieval Arabic manuscripts;

  • to develop and carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally (by reading a paper) and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of humanities scholarship.


Fridays 9.15 – 12.00. Timetables

Mode of instruction

Seminar, weekly attendance and participation required. Students are allowed to miss two classes for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners) and will have to make up for the classes missed. Students who miss more than two classes will fail the course. Students will have to prepare small text editions to be discussed in class.

Assessment method

  • Literature report and development of argumentation in an oral presentation (20%)

  • Participation (20%)

  • Final paper (written; ca. 7,500 words) (60%) to be completed before the end of the course. A draft version is to be presented and discussed during the course; the feedback given by the instructor and fellow students must be integrated into the final version. The paper should contain at least the following elements: (1) an evaluation of a specific text edition; (2) a critical edition of a sample of an unedited text available in several manuscripts; (3) discussion of the intertextuality of the selected text.


Blackboard will be used for internal communication and the distribution of additional reading and/or source material.

Reading list

  • A reader available at the Studiepunt Geesteswetenschappen.

  • F. Déroche, Islamic Codicology. An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script London: al-Furqan Foundation 2005.


Students in the ResMA Area Studies and Middle Eastern Studies with a specialisation in Arabic are automatically admitted to this class. Students from outside these programmes should contact Prof. Sijpesteijn before enrolling.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Prof. Dr. P.M. Sijpesteijn


Several guest speakers will be invited during the course to discuss their experience with editing texts. The seminar series by Dr Marina Rustow on reading Judaeo-Arabic documents will be integrated in this course.