Campus Life

Harvard's Lienau to present at Feb. 4 Comparative Literature Luncheon

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Annette Damayanti Lienau, assistant professor of comparative literature at Harvard University, will present “Muslim ‘Racialization’ and the Conceptual Limits of the Arabophone: Translational Disjunctures and Comparative Horizons across the Global South,” at 12:15 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 4, in 102 Kern Building on Penn State’s University park campus. 

Lienau’s core research uses the legacy of the Arabic language as a lens for comparative studies of post-colonial literature, offering an alternative approach to the often binary (colonial/post-colonial) constructions used in more isolated studies of national literatures. Drawing on an extensive background in comparative Arabic, Indonesian, African and Francophone writing, her research explores cultural and historical dynamics not fully explained by a single colonial legacy. Her work has been generously supported by national fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council, a Mellon postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, and several competitive grants from Yale University. She was most recently the co-recipient of a Mellon Sawyer Seminar Grant with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Lienau’s current book project, “Arabic and its Rivals: Sacred Language, Vernacular Difference, and the Politics of Post-Colonial Literature,” engages with the political and cultural legacy of Arabic as a sacralized language, underscoring its changing symbolic value across the 20th century in West African, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern contexts. The project considers the extent to which a common linguistic situation — the historical use of the Arabic script for vernacular languages, and the preservation of the Arabic language as a sacred, religious medium — has influenced the evolution of literatures in three national cases with distinct imperial legacies: Senegal, controlled by the French; Indonesia by the Dutch; and Egypt by the Ottoman Empire and subsequently by the British Empire. It examines how Arabic, as a sacred, religious medium, impacted the formation of national literatures in ways that contrast with vernacular, European literatures evolving from a Latin ecumenical context. This project also traces the ways in which regions in West Africa and Southeast Asia, once culturally unified through the common use of the Arabic script, were later divided through the colonial introduction of European languages.

This event is a part of the Comparative Literature Luncheon lecture series, a weekly, informal lunchtime gathering of students, faculty and other members of the University community. Each week the event begins at 12:15 p.m. — lunch is provided. At 12:30 p.m. there will be a presentation, by a visitor or a local speaker, on a topic related to any humanities discipline. All students, faculty, colleagues and friends are welcome. For a full list of Comparative Literature lunches, visit

This event is sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature, the Center for Global Studies, the African Studies Program, and the Weiss Chair of the Humanities.

Last Updated January 30, 2019