Blindness, Literature and Religion

The first survey and analysis of the cultural and literary impacts of blindness in the Arab world. 

The Blindness, Literature and Religion project


Research background

Dr Islam Issa received Faculty funding to research the rare medieval Arabic medical manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine in Washington DC.

He has since received a funding offer to take the highly prestigious residential position of Mellow Fellow at the Huntington Library in California, for a duration of one year (this has been postponed due to COVID-19). 

The Middle East lags behind many Western regions in relation to social and critical perceptions of disability, despite the high numbers of physical disabilities due to violent conflicts over recent decades. Blindness is of particular significance and pertinence: for example, the 2011 uprising in Egypt resulted in 1,200-5,000 eye injuries. Such occurrences attest to the relevance of disability, and blindness, to the Middle East’s socio-political climate. The theme of blindness is also prevalent in Islamic scripture and tradition.

There has been significant interest in relations between disability and literature lately. Literary and cultural scholars have only recently begun arguing for the necessity of assessing the implications of disability as critical insight.

Research aims

This research intersects a number of fields – cultural history, disability studies, literary criticism, literature, and Middle-Eastern studies – as the first survey and analysis of the cultural and literary impacts of blindness in the Arab world. Its outcomes relate to both the history of medicine and public health.

How has the research been carried out?

The overall methodology in Blindness, Literature, and Religion is both documentary and comparative. It utilises textual evidence from English literature translated to Arabic, Islamic tradition, and Arabic writings, in order to reconstruct a picture of how blindness is represented in each, and what blindness symbolises.

Outcomes and impact

The project’s archival research is on-going and will be published in the form of a book with the same title.