Culture outside of the state: aesthetics and education in the works of Salama Musa, Taha Husayn, and Ramsis Yunan

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This article analyses Egyptian definitions of thaqāfa or “culture” from 1922 to 1954 by focusing on three intellectuals: Salama Musa (1887–1958), Taha Husayn (1889–1973), and Ramsis Yunan (1913–1966). It considers how their definitions complicated the European integration of the term into the Arabic language, and how they contrasted with other relevant terms such as tarbiya (moral education) and taʿlīm (institutional instruction). Examining the cultural idioms embedded in these definitions challenges a typography that assumes a radical break between Arab intellectuals before and after the 1950s. By examining how the adaptation of socialist thought nuanced these appropriations, the article shows how the three intellectuals propose a definition of thaqāfa that borrows from transnational aesthetics to produce localized formulations of socialist realism and surrealism and advocate for a local humanism that works to keep literature and the arts outside of state control while educating people to resist fascist movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-138
Number of pages26
JournalMiddle Eastern Literatures
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2022


  • Ramsis Yunan
  • Salama Musa
  • Socialist realism
  • Surrealism
  • Taha Husayn
  • thaqāfa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory

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