Allison Kanner-Botan

Allison Kanner-Botan


Martin Marty Center Fellow

Allison is also an Alma Wilson Teaching Fellow.

My project–Mad Love: Islamic Thought and the Politics of Desire in the Legend of Layla and Majnun– centers on what the most famous lovers of Islamic literature can teach us about gender, rationality, and their intersecting impacts on constructions of the human. Locating the story’s moment of translation from disparate Arabic anecdotes to a Persian romantic epic, I argue that Niẓāmī’s (d. 1209) Laylī o Majnūn employs the inherited figure of the madman-poet Majnun to posit a theory of love as a political force that aims to overcome the conditions of worldly time and embodiment. This theory of love breaks down categorical divisions between man and woman, and human and animal by demonstrating how such differences are always co-constituted and emphasizing how reconceptualizing relationality can lead to a more just political arrangement. Using a variety of disciplinary interlocutors, from pre-modern Islamic poets, philosophers, and mystics to contemporary insights from cultural and literary theory, I aim to articulate how Laylī o Majnūn and its vast reception helps us think about gender, embodiment, and animality, past and present.

I’m really grateful for the group of people in the Marty cohort this year. I think that our meetings have already provided me with much fodder for future thought on my own project, as well as on presentation styles and methods. Dissertation work can often feel like a lot of time spent submersed in highly specialized areas, and I think the Marty Center will help with getting my head above the water and connecting with other fellows both in terms of content and expression. Having a range of folks whose work broadly touches on religion also leads to conceptual overlaps as well as methodological differences, which at times can be most enlightening.