Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Expansive Translations: Approaches to Buddhist and Sufi Texts

April 28, 12:00-1:00 p.m. CT

The lecture will be followed by a 30-minute translation workshop.

What makes for an effective translation of texts with a decidedly spiritual bent? Are particular translational approaches needed to more effectively translate spiritual texts? And if certain texts are said to have the quality of spiritual transmission, how can that possibly be conveyed in a translation? This talk, located at the intersection of translation praxis, Buddhist and Sufi scholarship, and meditation practice, will explore these and other questions through two core texts, one each from Sufi and Buddhist traditions: Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi’s 13th-century Arabic poetry collection The Translator of Desires, and the Sanskrit Mahayana text The Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines (aka The Prajnaparamita Sutra). More specifically, we will look at some of the modern translations of these two texts, and examine how certain translators have pushed the envelope in terms of rendering the texts into English, and how these more expansive translations can convey aspects of the texts that are not readily apparent in more conventional translations. More generally, we will explore some of the intangible, non-semantic aspects of translation, from a practical perspective.

About the Speaker

Kareem James Abu-Zeid, PhD, is a translator of authors from across the Arab world who translates from Arabic, French, and German. He has translated books by Adonis (Syria), Najwan Darwish (Palestine), Rabee Jaber (Lebanon), and Dunya Mikhail (Iraq). His work has earned him an NEA translation grant, PEN Center USA’s Translation Award, Poetry magazine’s translation prize, residencies from the Lannan Foundation and the Banff Centre, a Fulbright Fellowship (Germany), and a CASA Fellowship (Egypt), among other honors. His most recent translation is Najwan Darwish’s Exhausted on the Cross (NYRB Poets, 2021). He is also the author of The Poetics of Adonis and Yves Bonnefoy: Poetry as Spiritual Practice (Lockwood, 2021). He frequently mentors emerging translators, and teaches translation workshops at institutions around the world. The online hub for his work is www.kareemjamesabuzeid.com.