This book raises a number of questions concerning the assumed universalism of world literature by analyzing the interwoven strands of modernization, literature, and secularism. It examines the putative opposition between a practice of reading based on memorization, embodiment, and recitation in Qur'anic schools and another practice based on reflection, critique, and judgment, increasingly integral to what gets defined as literacy in the modern Egyptian state. By taking colonial Egypt as a paradigmatic site from which to consider literary publics, textual cultures, and the history of reading, the book reveals two convergent and enmeshed narratives: on the one hand, the formation of a modern literary paradigm linked to education reform, the rise of a reading public and modern Arabic literature, and on the other hand, the story of what gets blotted out, religious institutions and practices that come to be understood as traditional.
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