Professor Sahar Amer

PhD, Yale University; M.Phil, Yale University; MA, Yale University; MA in Psychology, Boston University; BA, Bryn Mawr College, Magna Cum Laude.
Chair of Department

A18 - Brennan MacCallum Building
The University of Sydney

Telephone +612 9351 6797
Fax +612 9351 2319

Biographical details

I am a specialist of comparative, cross-cultural relations between Arab and Muslim societies and Western cultures (Europe and France especially, and the United States) from the Middle Ages until today. I have published extensively on gender and sexuality in Arabic and French literature, on Franco-Arab and Arab-American postcolonial identities, and on Muslim women veiling practices. The main conceptual paradigm underlying my entire research program is the notion of “borders” (cultural, linguistic, historical, and geographic), not as elements of separation and division, but rather as fluid spaces of cultural exchange, adaptation, and collaboration.

In my most recent book is entitled What Is Veiling? (forthcoming in September 2014 from the University of North Carolina Press, USA), I offer a concise introduction to one of the most visible, controversial, and least understood emblems of Islam, the veil, and I explain the role and significance of veiling in the religious, cultural, political, and social lives of Muslims, past and present. I show that the meaning of Muslim veiling extends well beyond the religious and political accounts that are often considered as the totality of most discussions of the topic. I thus address all the major aspects of veiling, including history, religion, conservative and progressive interpretations, politics and regionality, society and economics, feminism, fashion, and art.

My book, Crossing Borders: Love between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literature (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) was awarded the 2009 Aldo & Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies by the Modern Languages Association of America. In it, I examine cross-cultural representations of gender and sexual practices in the medieval French and Arabic traditions from 1000 to 1500 and demonstrate that the medieval Arabic tradition on eroticism has played a determining role in European (French) literary writings on gender and sexuality in the Middle Ages. I thus interrogate contemporary Western and Eastern (Arabic) assumptions about gender, as well as binary constructions of masculinity and femininity. As I focus on constructions of gender and sexualities, I extend the field of medieval cross-cultural relations, which has thus far emphasized religious polemic, the history of science, Crusader Art, and courtly love.

I also published Esope au féminin: Marie de France et la politique de l’interculturalité [A Feminine Esope: Marie de France and the Politics of Interculturality] (Rodopi, 1999) in which I explore the extent to which the French fable tradition of the twelfth century is indebted to Arabic literature and culture. This study expands existing scholarship on Marie de France in that it focuses exclusively on her Fables instead of on her better known Lais, and adopts a cross-cultural approach to the genre of the medieval fable, which, until recently, has been studied solely from a Latin, and thus Western, perspective

In addition to these books, I have co-edited two volumes about Franco-Arab encounters (Contemporary French and Francophone Studies andNew Francographies), one special issue of Yale French Studies, as well as one art catalogue on Ghada Amer’s sculpture, “The Encyclopedia of Pleasure.”

Research interests

  • Medieval Arabic and French literature
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Muslim women
  • Orientalism and colonialism
  • Multi-culturalism and Cultural Diversity
  • Franco/Arab dialogues
  • Arab Diasporas: Europe, the USA, and Australia
  • Progressive Islam

Teaching and supervision

I teach classes on Arab cultures, Arab diasporas, Arab-European encounters, Arab post colonial identities, gender and (homo)sexuality in Arab and Muslim societies, Muslim women and veiling, and Franco-Arab dialogues.

Current projects

  • Reframing Postcolonial and World Studies in the longer Durée, special issue of the PMLA.
  • “Reading Medieval French Literature from an Inter-Imperial Perspective.”
  • “Lesbian Fiction in Twenty-First Century Arabic Literature: An Emerging Genre”


  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • MESA (Middle East Studies Association)
  • Conseil International des Etudes Francophones (CIEF)
  • MSA (Mediterranean Studies Association)

Awards and honours

  • Invited as the William Allan Neilson Distinguished Professor at Smith College (USA), Spring 2015.
  • Faculty Mentoring Award, presented by the Graduate Student Association, Department of Romance Languages, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA), 2011-12
  • Book Prize (2009): Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies by the Modern Language Association of America for book Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
  • Best Article of the Month Award (September 2009), Feminae Medieval Women and Gender Index:
  • National Humanities Center Fellow, Research Triangle Park, NC: 2005-06
  • Fulbright Fellowship (Center for Arabic Study Abroad): March-April 2005

In the last 10 years, my research in the USA, Turkey, Morocco, France, and Vietnam has been funded by several US title VI federal grants.

In the media

  1. News and Record(Sunday, April 7, 2013):
  2. “Muslim Women Speak up about the Veil”: National Public Radio (NPR), “The State of Things” (Friday, February 22, 2013):
  3. “Lifting the Veil” interview with the Herald Sun newspaper (Durham, NC) Sunday, February 24, 2013
  4. “ReOrienting the Veil Conference focuses on Influence of Muslim Veil” in The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), Monday, February 25, 2013:


  1. Documentary film on Arabs and Muslims in North Carolina, with Dr. Joanne Hershfield (filming in progress).
  2. Pedagogical website “Arabs in America”: (in progress-expected completion December 2014).
  3. Pedagogical website “ReOrienting the Veil”: (revamped website of; in progress-expected completion December 2014).
  4. Pedagogical website “Francophone Identities” (2003):


  1. “ReOrienting the Veil”: Duke-UNC Consortium Conference, UNC-CH, February 22-23, 2013:
  2. Franco/Arabic Cultures Today: Developments, Dialogues, and Challenges. UNC-Chapel Hill (2008):


  1. University of Missouri, Columbia, keynote addressat the Mid-America Medieval Association Meeting (Spring 2014): “Reading Medieval French Literature from a Global Perspective”
  2. Oberlin College(Fall 2013): “The Veil, Islamic Fashion, and Muslim Dolls”
  3. University of Massachusetts-Amherst(Fall 2013): “Rethinking Modernity and Political Economy through Cross-Cultural Medieval Studies”
  4. High Point University, NC (Spring 2013): “Muslim Women and Veiling”
  5. University of Massachusetts-Amherst(Fall 2012): “Reading Medieval French Literature from a Global Perspective”
  6. University of Indiana Bloomington, keynote address(Spring 2011): “When Myths Trump Science: A Re-Examination of the Veil Debate in France Today”
  7. University of North Carolina-Wilmington(Spring 2010): “Naming homosexuality in the Arab World: Bridging the Past and the Present”
  8. Duke University (Fall 2008):“Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-Like Women.”
  9. Smith College (Fall 2006): “Border Crossings.”
  10. University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Fall 2006): “Love between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures.”
  11. Vanderbilt University (Spring 2006): “The S- word: Same-Sex Love between Women in the Medieval Arabic Tradition.”
  12. Columbia University (Fall 2005): “Secularism and Diversity: The Contributions of Veiled Muslim Women to French Laicité.”
  13. Sonoma State University (Fall 2004): “Behind the Veil: French Desire and the Middle East.” (See article at:
  14. Amherst College (Fall 2003),keynote address at the 30th Anniversary Meeting of the New England Medieval Conference: “The Challenges of Cross-Cultural Research: The Case of Sexuality Studies.”


  • Guest reviewer (books): Columbia UP, University of Edinburgh Press; Zed Press; Modern Language Association’s book series “World Literature Re-imagined”
  • Guest reviewer (articles): Journal of Lesbian Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies, Studies in Gender and Sexuality; Speculum; Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue
  • Guest Reviewer (Fellowship applications) submitted to the National Humanities Center (2005-present)
  • Member (appointed) of selection committee of Modern Language Association's LGBQ Caucus Crompton-Noll prize (2009)
  • Member of selection committee of Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources, 2002-04.

Services to the Profession

  • Member (appointed) of Modern Language Association's Committee on Honors and Awardsappointed by the MLA Executive Council, July 1, 2011-30 June 2014.
  • Member (elected) of Executive Committee of the Discussion Group on Arthurian Literature, Modern Language Association, 2012-2017; Secretary of the Discussion Group in 2015-16; Chair of the Group in 2016-2017.
  • Member of Advisory Board of Postmedieval: a Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies (Palgrave Macmillan), 2009-present

Selected Publications

List being uploaded soon.

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