From Morning Hunt to Beloved Gazelle

15 December 2021 - 17 December 2021

Cynthia Beerbower Room, Newnham College

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Literary and Visual Representations of Animals from Central Asia to the Maghreb


Christine van-Ruymbeke
Christiane Esche-Ramshorn
Charis Olszok


James Montgomery (University of Cambridge)
Sarra Tlili (University of Florida)


Animals occupy a prominent place across the literatures and arts of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persianate and Turkish lands. From the pre-Islamic Arabic qaṣīda to the Persian Shahnameh to modern novels, illustrated manuscripts, films and contemporary art, nonhuman animals dramatise explorations of power, ethics, spirituality and, perhaps above all, what it means to be human. Within the vastly varied geographies encapsulated within these regions, they animate desert survival, the imagined idyll of court life and the rapidly changing face of urban existence. They are depicted in their raw physicality, exemplified in the unsparing detail of camel descriptions, from the pre-Islamic muʿallaqa of Ṭarafa to the modern Libyan novel, al-Tibr (1989; Gold Dust, 2008), by Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī (b. 1948). They are portrayed as fully speaking and plotting characters in the tales of Kalīla wa-Dimna, later premodern works inspired by them, and as symbols in the contemporary political novel. They embody spiritual yearning, whether in the form of the classical ghazal or modern poetry and film. Visual representations of animals vary from stylized calligraphic poems, illustrated literary scenes, margins filled with imaginary dragons or zoologically perfect gazelles. Animals, as these few examples suggest, stand at the heart of the regions’ literatures and art, inviting reflections on their symbolic import, but also what these works say about animals themselves, the ecologies which they inhabit, and the impact of humans upon them.

To date, however, this rich presence has received little focused and sustained scholarly attention within Middle Eastern studies, while, in other disciplines, the field of Animal Studies has been rapidly growing. This conference therefore seeks to open this conversation, through rethinking the literatures and art of the Middle East and North Africa through the presence of non-human animals, and through addressing and challenging the primarily Eurocentric foundations of Animal Studies, forging an alternative genealogy of human thinking on animals beyond the Western Cartesian tradition. We invite papers that consider how animals shape the structure, imagery, and language of literary and artistic creativity. Through tracing the migration of animals across aesthetic forms, we seek to gain fresh perspectives on the entanglement of species, on literary, cultural, and creative boundaries, and the development of genres, as well as their rooting in the material world. Above all, we hope to establish connections across geographies and timeframes, establishing comparative perspectives rooted in the rich presence of literary and artistic animals.

Supported by:

CRASSH 20th Anniversary Logo          Newnham college logo


If you have any specific accessibility needs for this event please get in touch. We will do our best to accommodate any requests.

Conference assistance:

Wednesday 15 December

8.30 - 9.00

Coffee and Welcome

9.00 - 10.00

Key Note

The Human and Non-Human Animal in Classical Arabic Literature
James Montgomery, University of Cambridge

10.00 - 11.30

Animals and Politics in the Premodern Period

Slaughtering Foxes in the Vineyard? A Pervasive Topos and its Mise-en-Scène in Early and Classical Arabic Historiography of the Early Islamic Conquests
Georg Leube, Universities of Bayreuth and Hamburg

The Political and Religious Meaning of Animals in al‐Andalus and the Maghrib (3rd/9th ‐ 4th/10th Centuries)
Maribel Fierro, Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Mediterranean CSIC, Spain

Ibn Sharaf al-Qayrawānī’s Ode to a Giraffe: An Episode in Fatimid – Zirid Diplomatic Relations
Russell Hopley, Independent Scholar

11.30 - 11.45


11.45 - 13.15

Animals and Political Margins in Twentieth-Century Literature

Wild Men of Yemen and Their Beasts: Jews, Muslim Pariahs, and Animals at the Margins of Yemeni Society
Mark S. Wagner, Louisiana State University

Narrating through Animals: The Nonhuman as Ethical Agent in Contemporary Central Asian Literature
Jeanine Dağyeli, Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan

Animal Representations and Beyond: Their Absence, Presence and Manifestations in the Literature of Life-Imprisoned Kurdish Writers
Dilek Hattatoğlu and Ahu Karasulu, Independent Scholars

13.15 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.30

Animals in the Arts of Armenia

Mediators between Worlds and Cultures: Sirens in the Medieval Armenian and Islamic Art of the 10th–14th Centuries
Lilit Mikayelyan, Yerevan State University

“Master of the Garden”: the Image of Bear in Early Medieval Art of Armenia and Neighbouring Countries
Zaruhi Hakobyan, Yerevan State University

The Depiction of Animals and Royal Hunt in Cilician Miniature Painting (Gospel no. 9422 of Matenadaran)
Satenik Chookaszian, Yerevan State University

15.30 - 15.45


15.45 - 17.15

Animals, Film and Popular Culture

The Puppet Animal as a Social and Political Narrative Body in the Performing Arts in Iran’
Yassaman Khajehi, Clermont Auvergne, France

Dealing with the Stray: Film and Cartoon Portrayals of Homeless Dogs and the Human-Dog interactions in the Modern Middle East’
Gwyneth Talley, American University in Cairo

At the Zoo in Palestine
Hannah Boast, University College Dublin

Thursday 16 December

9.00 - 10.30

Animals, Sickness and Mourning

Patient Animal: Science and Care in Medieval Arabic Literature
Anna Ayse Akasoy, City University of New York

Desert Animals: Mourning and the She-Camel in Bedouin Poetry
Moneera al-Ghadeer, Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Culture, Riyadh 

Attachment and Loss: Animal Rithāʾ in Arabic Poetry
Iman Darwish, Harvard University

10.30 - 10.45


10.45 - 12.15

Animals and War in the Twentieth Century

Creaturely Wars: HumAnimals in Lebanese Wartime Fiction
Yasmine Khayyat, Rutgers University

Taming the Dogs of War: Animals and Iran-Iraq War in Arabic and Persian Fiction
Amir Moosavi, Rutgers University

Flying Above Partition: Literary Representations of Doves (and Other Birds) in Modern Cypriot Poetry
Daniele Nunziata, University of Oxford

12.15 - 13.00


13.00 - 14.45

Horses and Horse Hybrids

The Symbol and Symbolism of Horse Brands in Persianate Arts circa 1500—1850
Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp, Leiden University

Banāt al-rīḥ: Mythical Horse Hybrids in Early Islamic Literature
Hylke Hettema, Leiden University

The Monstrous Body of Jewish Converts in the Spanish al-Buraq
Ana L. Méndez-Oliver, Syracuse University

14.45 - 15.00


15.00 - 16.30

Desert Animals

Suja Sawafta, University of Miami

Oneness and the Waddān: Blurring Human-Animal Boundaries in Ibrahim al-Kūnī’s Nazīf al-Ḥajar (The Bleeding of the Stone, 2002)
Kholoud Hussein, Cornell University

“A Specifically Libyan Maskh”: Exploring Metamorphosis in the Libyan Novel
Charis Olszok, University of Cambridge

16.30 - 17.30

Key Note

Modern Hadith Debates and the Nonhuman Other
Sarra Tlili, University of Florida

Friday 17 December

9.00 - 10.30

Animals Between India and the Middle East

The Hunt of Love and Justice
Ebba Koch, University of Vienna

Extreme Ethics: Animal-Human Generosity in Indian Qissahs
Pasha M. Khan, McGill University

Topographical Wonders: Elephantine Jinns and al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock Translated in Early Modern India
Vivek Gupta, University of Cambridge

10.30 - 10.45


10.45 - 12.15

Animals in Modern Persian Literature

The Representation of Animals and Animal Rights in Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Benefits of Vegetarianism”
Gabrielle van den Berg, Leiden University

A Literary Encounter across Time: Two Persian Stories, Two Animals, and Two Contrasting Worldviews
Kamran Talattof, The University of Arizona

Sâdeq Chubak: Through a Reversed Gaze
Julie Duvigneau, INALCO, Paris



13.00 - 14.30

The Bird, the Bee, and the Dog: Symbols and Beyond

From Sacred Animal to Symbol of Adultery: Dogs in the Armenian Tradition
David Zakarian, University of Oxford

Birds’ Society of Neyshabur: Animal Myth, Allegory, and Symbol in Persian Literature
Nasrollah Zirak, Islamic Azad University, Iran

The Wild, the Domestic and the Stray: Dogs in the Arabic Literary Imaginary
Wen-chin Ouyang, SOAS, University of London

Call for Papers: From Morning Hunt to Beloved Gazelle

This conference seeks to rethink the literatures and arts of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persianate and Turkish lands through the presence of non-human animals situated within their ‘worlds’, whether these be pastoral gardens, constructions of the wild, or the interstices of human habitations. 

We invite papers that consider what these imagined animal worlds say about human animals, and how they shape the structure, imagery, and language of literary and artistic creativity. 

Through tracing the migration of animals across aesthetic forms, we seek to gain fresh perspectives on the entanglement of species, on literary, cultural, and creative boundaries, and the development of genres, as well as their rooting in the material world. 

Contributions are invited that address literature, art, and film from the early Medieval period to the present, and that establish connections across eras, geographies, and languages. We hope in the process to address the primarily Eurocentric foundations of Critical Animal Studies, and to provide an impetus for further study of the rich presence of animals in Middle Eastern literatures, art, and film. 

Proposals for individual contributions and panels are invited, particularly, but not exclusively, papers (max. 20 minutes, exclusive of Q&A) that address the following:

  • Comparative perspectives on animal tropes, motifs and genres
  • Animal intertextuality between and within classical, popular, and modern traditions
  • The influence of religious/spiritual beliefs on the representation of animals
  • Animals and environment as agentive presences within literature and art
  • Animals in allegorical narratives
  • Texts written through and about animal worlds
  • Human and animal interactions; human interference in animal worlds
  • The use and transformation of zoological reality into artistic vocabulary
  • Fantastical creatures 
  • Investigations and deconstructions of the human-nonhuman boundary
  • Cross-regional and generic perspectives on specific species


Please submit abstracts of between 300 and 500 words to Charis Olszok ( by Friday 30 April 2021. Decisions will be sent out by 31 May 2021. We hope to hold the conference in person, at Cambridge (the conference language will be English). In addition, we intend to publish select conference papers in a peer-reviewed journal by Spring 2023. 

For more on the conference, we welcome you to watch these short clips from the conference convenors: