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Arabic Studies Scholar Beatrice Gründler, Winner of the Top German Research Award, also Receives Top European Research Award

Scholar from Freie Universität, a Recent Recipient of the Leibniz Prize from the German Research Foundation, Has now Won an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council / 2.435 Million Euros for Research / Press Photo

№ 074/2017 from Apr 08, 2017

One month after the award ceremony for the most important German research prize, Arabic studies scholar Prof. Dr. Beatrice Gründler from Freie Universität Berlin, now received the most prestigious European research award. After being awarded the Leibniz Prize from the German Research Foundation (DFG) in mid-March, Beatrice Gründler will also receive an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), as the ERC announced on Friday in Brussels. Gründler won the grant for her project to research and publish a digital critical and commented edition of Kalila and Dimna, a mirror of princes in fable form, and a masterpiece of Arabic prose from the 8th century. It encompasses influences of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. The Advanced Grant of the ERC amounts to 2.435 million euros, which is roughly equivalent to the Leibniz Prize.

The press photo may be used free of charge in connection with reporting on the ERC Grant, provided that due credit is given to the photographer, Bernd Wannenmacher.

Beatrice Gründler's research focuses on Kalila and Dimna, a text whose Arabic version was created in the 8th century and then disappeared in the darkness of history for half a millennium, before it reappeared in numerous extremely varying manuscripts. Translations were done simultaneously in Europe and the Middle East. Translations into Latin, Hebrew, and Old Spanish emerged during the 12th and 13th centuries, and the first translation into a modern European language appeared in 1482 – it was a translation into German done by Anton von Pforr. "The book was a bestseller during the Middle Ages in the area around the Mediterranean, and it has even been compared to the Bible," explains Gründler, who is extremely grateful for both the Leibniz Prize and the ERC Advanced Grant. She says that having both research awards will enable her to delve deeper into her work and, for example, examine renewed translations of Kalila and Dimna into several Indian languages during the 19th century, because after more than a thousand years, the fables returned to their cultural sphere of their origin. Thanks to the support from both the ERC and the DFG, Gründler will now be able to present the fables in the way that they evolved over more than a millennium, namely as a "cultural bridge between Indian sources and a Middle Persian redaction on the one hand and a multifaceted existence in Europe and Asia on the other."

Gründler stresses, "This going back and forth among different cultures and about 40 languages is what makes the book so interesting." It oscillates both inwardly and outwardly: It oscillates toward the outside, because every translator brought it into his or her own culture and changed something in the process. "That was easy to do, because this is a frame tale with varying components, including proverbs and analogical images that are easy to substitute. Over the centuries, the story moved from the cultural space of Hinduism and Buddhism to Zoroastrianism and then on to Islam and Christianity."

According to Gründler, the inner oscillation of the book has been overlooked so far. She says, "This prime example of early Arabic prose was rewritten, abridged, or expanded by semi-educated scribes from the 13th to the 19th centuries. This often happened in certain passages where statements are made about human interaction or strategic and moral issues." The book thus transmits the voices of authors whose names and identities are not known. This can be observed very early, long before the 18th century, when writers who were not part of the elite started writing their own books, such as journals and local histories. Gründler stresses, "Kalila and Dimna thus preserves the voices of anonymous individuals who took over the voice of the original Arab translator-editor Ibn al-Muqaffa (d. 756) and carried on to rewrite his work in their voices."

Gründler emphasized that the two research grants will also permit her to explore other aspects of the book in a more comprehensive way. She says, "Kalila and Dimna crosses numerous boundaries in Arabic literature: it alternates between Classical Arabic and a hybrid variant, also called Middle Arabic. It is a fictional book in a tradition that has no respect for fiction, but due to its ethical content and classical style, it earned respect from the beginning and was quickly adopted into the canon." These two aspects influence each other and must be investigated together. Gründler adds that this does not only apply to Kalila and Dimna, but also to other works at the interface between high and popular literature. She says, "Kalila and Dimna is a unique book, but it is also part of a long tradition of books that were brought to Europe from India, Iran, and Greece via the Arabic language. It needs to be placed in context with them." The two research grants together will allow her to view the changes of language level and literary genre jointly, as it is not possible to do justice to the book without combining both. Berlin is moreover an ideal location for this type of project. As Gründler says, "At Freie Universität and its partner institutions, there are many colleagues working in the Kulturwissenschaften and the Humanities, and I look forward to cooperating with them."

The president of Freie Universität, Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, congratulated Gründler, and said, "It is very fortunate for our university that Beatrice Gründler has now received recognition for her outstanding work in the form of an ERC Advanced Grant." Alt emphasized that Gründler's work contributes to greater understanding between different cultural areas due to its interweaving of Arabic and European traditions of knowledge.

Beatrice Gründler, who was born in 1964, studied in Strasbourg, Tübingen, and at Harvard University, where she earned her doctorate in 1995. After a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at Dartmouth College, she taught at Yale University, beginning in 1996 as assistant professor, and since 2002 as full professor of Arabic literature. In 2014 she returned to Germany, where she has since been teaching and doing research at Freie Universität Berlin. She is currently a Principal Investigator at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies and the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies. At the latter, along with Dimitri Gutas, a professor of Graeco-Arabic studies at Yale University and an Einstein Visiting Fellow, she heads a project funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin that aims to produce a multi-language edition of the Poetics of Aristotle. This includes research into the cultural context of the Poetics' Arabic, Hebrew, Syrian, and Latin translations. At the same time, as part of an E-learning project, she is working on a partial digital edition of the above-mentioned fable collection. This has served as a pilot project for her application for the ERC Grant. Gründler is a member of the board of the Dahlem Humanities Center at Freie Universität Berlin. She was the president of the American Oriental Society from 2016 to 2017.

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More Information

Prof. Dr. Beatrice Gründler, Department of History and Cultural Studies, Freie Universität Berlin; Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies; Tel.: +49 030 838 60489, Email: beatrice.gruendler@fu-berlin.de

Press Image

The press photo may be used free of charge in connection with reporting on the Leibniz Prize and the ERC Grant, provided that due credit is given to the photographer, Bernd Wannenmacher.