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William A. Graham, Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and dean of Harvard Divinity School, will present a lecture entitled “‘Book, Writ, and Word’: Sacred Texts and their Uses” 8 p.m. today in Kirby Hall of Civil Rights room 104.

Sponsored by the religious studies department, the lecture is part of this year’s Roethke Humanities Festival.

Graham will examine the problematic nature of the category “scripture” by looking at the oral dimension of written scriptures and reflecting more generally about scriptures’ roles in religious life. His talk also will explore some of the problems that arise when the simplicity of such categories is assumed in religious studies.

“Bill Graham’s work on the oral aspects of written scriptures shakes up our usual notions of what scripture is,” says Robert Cohn, Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Studies. “Professor Graham has worked on the history, form, and meaning of sacred texts from many traditions, most especially in his own field of expertise, Islam. We are glad that he is willing to be drawn away from his duties as dean of Harvard Divinity School to share his current reflections, or re-visionings, of a very important kind of book – scriptures.”

Themed “The Book Re-Visioned: Crossroads of Traditions and Technologies,” this year’s Roethke festival celebrates books and their many interpretations and permutations through exhibitions, readings, workshops, lectures, performances, and special events. A complete schedule can be found by visiting, Quick Links, Performing Arts/Williams Center. The festival is named in honor of poet Theodore Roethke, who taught at Lafayette for four years in the 1930s.

A member of the Harvard faculty since 1973, Graham became dean of its Divinity School in 2002. His scholarly specialization is in early Islamic religious history, with special focus on the Quran and Hadith literatures. He also is interested in ritual, pilgrimage, and scripture studies, as well as the problem of tradition and traditionalism. He completed undergraduate work at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received his master of divinity and doctorate degrees from Harvard. He recently received honorary doctorates from Lehigh University and University of North Carolina.

Graham is a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Research in Islamic History and Culture from the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art, and Culture. He has held John Simon Guggenheim and Alexander von Humboldt research fellowships. He is the author of Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion and Divine Word and Prophetic Word in Early Islam, which won the American Council of Learned Societies History of Religions Prize in 1978.

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