By Virginia Cherol

MLCL Becomes WLL

May 26th, 2016 in Uncategorized

The Department of World Languages & Literatures (WLL), formerly the Department of Modern Language & Comparative Literature (MLCL), comprises 38 full-time faculty members who teach a total of ten languages and literatures from East and South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. While this makes for an exciting range of courses and scholarship, it also makes finding a name that fits the department challenging.

CAS News spoke with J. Keith Vincent, WLL Chair, about the department’s name change and how it better represents the work of the faculty and students within it. Read the whole interview here!

Freedom for Ahmed Naji

May 11th, 2016 in Lecture

Worldwide Reading on May 12, 2016 from 12-1:30pm GSU Art Gallery

In February 2016, Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison. The sentence, for “violating public modesty,” stems from the publication of an excerpt from his 2014 novel Istikhdam al-Hayah (Using Life) in Akhbar al-Adab magazine. This both violates Ahmed’s right to freedom of expression and has a chilling effect on creative writing in Egypt.

On Thursday, May 12, readings in solidarity with Ahmed are being held in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Beirut, Kampala, Turin, Amsterdam, Oslo, Frankfurt, Kuwait, NYC, the Bronx, and Boston.

The Boston reading will take place from 12:00 – 1:30 at the Sherman Art Gallery on the second floor of the George Sherman Union at Boston University. Light refreshments will be served and audience members are welcome to join in the collective reading of excerpts from Ahmed’s work (provided) in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Turkish.

The reading is co-sponsored by Boston University’s Department of World Languages and Literatures, the Middle East and North Africa Studies Program, the Creative Writing Program, the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations & Societies, and the College of Arts & Sciences Writing Program.

For more information please consult You can also contact Somy Kim at


WLL Student Chosen for Prestigious Boren Scholarship

April 27th, 2016 in Celebration

Caroline Lord has been awarded a David L. Boren Scholarship to study in Jordan during the 2016-17 academic year. Caroline is currently an undergraduate student with a triple major in Asian Studies, Middle East and North Africa Studies, and History at BU, and a student worker for WLL. She will study Arabic at the Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman. David L. Boren Scholarships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program and provide students with the resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the US. This year, 820 undergraduate students from across the US applied for Boren Scholarships and 165 were awarded. Congratulations to Caroline for this accomplishment!

Japan Under Abe: The End of Civil Discourse

April 8th, 2016 in Lecture

Join us on April 14th at 5pm in 745 Commonwealth Avenue room B19 for a lecture by  Yuji Kitamaru!2016 lecture 2Yuji Kitamaru lives in New York where he works as a Freelance Journalist, Columnist, and Radio Commentator for various Japanese Media. He is a former Tokyo Shimbun NY Bureau Chief (1996) and from 1981-1993 he served as a member of the writing staff for the Tokyo Shimbun Office and of the Mainichi Shimbun (Politics/Public Security/Special Reports/City News)

Sushi Reception to follow the talk.

‘No One Like Us Here’: A Century of Latin American Travel to India

April 6th, 2016 in Cultural Event, Lecture

Join us  on April 20th from 3-5pm in STH 636 for an exciting talk by Professor Roanne Kantor of Brandeis University’s Department of English

Kantor India talk

MLCL Open House

March 30th, 2016 in Celebration

MLCL Open House Invite flyer April 6 2016MLCL Open House Invite flyer April 6 2016MLCL

Margaret Litvin’s Book Launch for Four Arab Hamlet Plays

March 3rd, 2016 in Celebration, Publication

MLCL’s own Margaret Litvin has co-edited and co-translated an anthology, Four Arab Hamlet Plays.  A book launch with staged readings will be in NYC on March 14!

To learn more, please go to the event website, here.

Peace Process

February 12th, 2016 in Publication, Social Event

Abigail Gillman

Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature

Peace Rally, Marsh Plaza, Boston University

January 18, 2016


My name is Abigail Gillman. I have taught in the Modern Languages Department, in the Core Curriculum, and in Jewish Studies for over twenty years. I normally celebrate MLK day at home, preparing for the first day of classes. I listen to other people’s tributes, and to the excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches broadcast on local radio stations. Hearing his voice and his words sustains me as I move into the new semester, and beyond, in so many ways.


But today, I’m very thankful to Dean Elmore for taking the idea of a peace rally and running with it. This is the first time I have been asked to put some of my own words out there on MLK day, so here goes.


I feel that we just got through a very dark fall semester, with more than the usual terrifying photos on the front page of my morning NYTimes, and more than the usual scary headlines. There were the deadly shootings and terror attacks—in South Carolina, in Beirut, in Nigeria, in Paris, in Israel, in Turkey, in San Bernardino CA. The frequency and randomness of these attacks spawned a new level of fear. It even led my daughter to say, let’s avoid this or that public place, it’s too risky.


I also think of the refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan on foot and by boat, sleeping in train stations, arriving in countries around the world, depending on the world’s hospitality for their survival. We have seen many of these photos over the last year. Or maybe, not enough of them.


Usually it takes one image to make an overwhelming crisis concrete in your mind. In my case it was the pictures from the Greek Island of Lesbos.


In CC 101, a class about Ancient Greek civilization, we read the Mytilenean Debate of 427 BCE, as reported by Thucydides. Mytilene is the capital of Lesbos–the destination of these rubber boats of refugees travelling from Turkey, at peril of their life. What’s going on in Lesbos now?


It seems to me that I have seen many fewer headlines about refugees since the New Year began, so I looked it up, and it didn’t take long to find out that 1,644 people landed on the Lesbos just last Friday. And as of yesterday, 18,000 refugees had arrived since the start of 2016. I quote: “Already, it’s a record year. We don’t have a crystal ball, but the war in Syria is not going to end tomorrow. If anything, it’s becoming more deadly,” said Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman on Lesbos for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He said that while young men still make up the largest share of refugees, there were more women and families among this year’s arrivals so far on the island.” End quote.


Lesbos in our classroom, and Lesbos in the news. Very disconcerting.


For much of the semester, I felt that I was coming to work every day to do the business of teaching and learning, reading and writing, blocking out the fear and the sadness. Because teaching and learning and thinking are some of the best antidotes to chaos. And we have plenty of work to do. But in the back of my mind, I began to wonder whether going about our business as usual was good enough.


Then something happened that really did make it impossible to go on with business as usual. A shooting in Israel took the life of a boy from our community. Two of my children knew him from summer camp. He was an eighteen-year-old American student from Sharon, MA, on his gap year program in Israel. He was riding in a van that was sprayed with bullets. The week before Thanksgiving I found myself at a funeral with my children, and a thousand other children in our community who had lost their innocence that week, facing terrible grief that was right here on my doorstep, much too close for comfort.


There are many more examples that point to what we all know: Dr. King’s work is not finished. How can we continue his work?


My hope for 2016 is that we can make the struggle for peace, equality and justice part of our collective work of teaching and learning. People talk about a “peace process” in the Middle East, a “peace initiative” in Syria or other parts of the world. Perhaps we need to think about a peace process right here on our campus, starting here on Marsh Plaza.


What would that look like?


Not everyone can become an activist. If you are one—kol hakavod, as we say in Hebrew. But there is also the call of social activism, and social responsibility. I would like to see more opportunities for social action here every day.


When my children’s friend was killed, hundreds of thousands of dollars was raised for charity in his memory. There were hours and hours of study taking place in his memory. Fundraiser led to fundraiser. Not a word was spoken about the perpetrator, but the stories about charity and good deeds spread like wildfire across the world, spawning more and more. That effect, like the idea of “paying it forward,” is a example of why good deeds are valued in Judaism as a form of tikkun olam, repairing the world at large.


We can start out small by being kind to those around us, no matter what. Small acts of kindness and generosity have an impact far beyond the moment. They can literally change a person’s life.


One can also wage the struggle with words, with literature and poetry and writing in a journal. (It doesn’t have to be a blog—for most of history there were no blogs). Reading a poem, or writing a poem, is a great way to find your voice in this struggle. We must find our voices.


One more thing: we must continually inform and educate ourselves about what is going on. In our day and age, we are more than ever at the mercy of the media. Our news feed gives us the most up-to-date information quickly, but that’s about all. It detracts from the peace process in other ways. It causes us to pay attention to some issues and not others, to forget yesterday’s issues quickly, to lose sight of the big picture and the big goals. It inspires us to want to acquire something new rather than fix what we already own. It does not help us understand the Other—the enemy—those with whom we disagree, whom we are fighting. The media does not help the cause of cross-cultural understanding and dialogue across the lines of political parties, race, class, and gender.   In other words: our news feed does not help the peace process.


The alternative to learning about the world through our news feed is education. I guess that brings us back to what we do here every day, where, luckily, education is our business as usual.


In Dr. King’s memory, let us redouble our efforts to educate ourselves—not just to know today’s headlines. Reading, writing, thinking, learning, talking about the past, the present, and the future—repairing the world.


Students: let your teachers and administrators know when you want to discuss world events and politics. Teachers and administrators: consider the impact of the onslaught of bad news, fear and grief, on our students’ souls.


Let’s continue this conversation about how we can do justice to what this statue stands for, this reminder of King’s vision, that we pass by every day.

Dr Sassan Tabatabai Publishes a Piece on Translation in ‘Essays in Criticism’

January 26th, 2016 in Publication

Modern Languages and Comparative Literature’s own Dr. Sassan Tabatabai has published an article on translation. Read the whole piece here!

Professor Wiebke Denecke publishes first volume of a revisionary history of Japanese Literature: A New History of Japanese “Letterature”

January 8th, 2016 in Publication

A New History of Japanese “Letterature” [日本「文」学史 Nihon “bun”gakushi, coedited with Kōno Kimiko, Shinkawa Tokio, and Jinnō Hidenori. Volume 1 (Tokyo: Bensei shuppan, 2015)


This volume breaks with a century-old tradition of writing the history of Japanese literature as the triumphal evolution of Japanese vernacular literature, at the expense of the authoritative tradition of Sino-Japanese literature (written in forms of Literary Chinese). This master narrative took root around the turn of the 20th century, when, under the pressures of building a modern nation state, a “national” literary canon was created that centered around vernacular novels and diaries such as The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book, as well as the repertoires of Noh drama, Puppet Theater, and Kabuki. Just at that moment the new notion of “bungaku (文学), a term coined to translate contemporary European notions of “literature,” and in particular the novel, were introduced into Japan and anachronistically applied to Japanese history. Yet, Japan had for more than one-and-a-half millennia developed its own complex realm of “Letters” (bun 文), centered around poetic genres such as Chinese-style poetry and vernacular (yet courtly) waka poetry, with their own rich scholarly traditions. In terms of the linguistic dominance of Literary Chinese—the authoritative language of government, scholarship, Buddhism, and belles-lettres in pre-20th century East Asia—the political aspirations and social functions of literature, and the hierarchy of genres, this world had little in common with the 19th century realm of European novelistic “literature.”


This volume, the first in a planned series of three, attempts to reinvision the world of “Letters” that existed in early and medieval Japan before the emergence of the Europeanized world of “Literature” in the late 19th century. What was this notion of “Letters” and how was it important to the textual culture of various periods? How did people become proficient in “Letters,” what material culture developed around “Letters,” and how did “Letters” structure Japanese society, in terms of gender relations, political ideology, and social participation? Where can we grasp “Letters” in action, during court festivals, religious ceremonies, or simply excursions with like-minded friends? How did the dynamics between Chinese-style and vernacular literature play out in the realm of “Letters”?


This exercise in refocusing historical imagination away from the national interests that keep warping our vision of “Japanese literature,” points also to the future. It proposes to rediscover this world as a realm of cultural commonalities between China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, which all in their own way have increasingly distanced themselves from the previously shared world of pre-20th century East Asia.


For a taste of the book’s content you can read the introduction and table of contents on the publisher’s website (in Japanese) here.


The journal Bibliology (Shomotsugaku) just published an article about this new literary history. Read here.