[CFP] International Conference on Retranslating the Bible and the Qur’an (23-25 March 2020)

International Conference on Retranslating the Bible and the Qur’an (23-25 March 2020): Tensions between Authoritative Translations and Retranslations in Theory and in Practice

KU Leuven, Belgium, 23-25 March 2020

CETRA – Centre for Translation Studies at KU Leuven, in collaboration with United Bible Societies, presents a three-day conference dedicated to the theme of retranslating the Bible and the Qur’an. Its aim is to bring together Translation Studies scholars and translators working with sacred writings, in particular Biblical and Quranic texts, and to stimulate the dialogue between theory and practice.

Over the last two decades, research on retranslation has greatly expanded, partly under the influence of the so-called Retranslation Hypothesis (Chesterman 2000), based on the ideas by Berman (1990), claiming that retranslations tend to be more source-text-oriented than previous translations. The idea that translation is a process of improvement over time, from one translation to the next, coming closer and closer to the source text, has lately repeatedly been challenged and even undermined (Paloposki & Koskinen 2004). It is striking that research on retranslation has mainly focused on translations of literary source texts with a ‘canonized’ or ‘canonical’ status such as Shakespeare (e.g., Hanna 2009), Joyce (e.g. Alevato do Amaral 2019, Peeters 2016, Peeters & Sanaz Gallego 2019) and Dostoevsky (e.g., Boulogne 2018). Drawing on recent theoretical insights into retranslation (e.g., Deane-Cox Sharon 2014, Alvstad & Assis Rosa 2015, Peeters 2016, Van Poucke 2017) and on concrete case-studies, this conference wants to explore the theoretical and practical implications of the field of tension that exists between translations and retranslations when ‘canonized’ or ‘canonical’ writings in the literal sense of the word are at stake.

In doing so, the conference wants to shed light on the complex triangular relationships between a given sacred source text, its previous translations and new translations. Special attention will be given to the opportunities, pitfalls and challenges of retranslating a Biblical text or Quranic text (Abdel Haleem 2005, Allaithy 2014) – typical examples of highly sensitive texts (Simms 1998) – in the present time. A key issue that we propose for discussion in this respect concerns retranslations of canonical texts for which authoritative or indeed canonized translations already exist. Taking into account insights of narrative theory (Baker 2006, Brownlie 2006), we want to investigate which opportunities retranslation offers to counter, undermine or strengthen the existing narratives in the case when not only the source text, but also a given pre-existing translation has been attributed canonical status. How, for instance, can translators challenge the King James Version of the Bible, the Revised Standard Version, the Roman Catholic version, or the Jehovah Witnesses Version? On the other hand, in the case of the Qur’an, it seems that there is no such thing as an established or authoritative translation, let alone a canonical translation. What then is the historical and/or contemporary status of the numerous existing interlingual and intralingual translations of the Qur’an, both in and outside of the Islamic world? Are they merely pragmatic solutions to make the source text more widely or more easily accessible, or do they fulfill other functions (literary, ideological, theological, explanatory and other) as well?

The main issues we would like to discuss are related, but not limited, to the following topics:

  • Motives for the retranslation of sacred texts. How do issues such as ageing, changing contexts of reception, and reinterpretation impact on retranslations of the Bible, the Qur’an and other sacred writings? To what extent does the practice of retranslating sacred texts confirm or undermine the above mentioned retranslation hypothesis?
  • Strategies for retranslating sacred texts. How does the canonized nature of a given text (original or translation) influence the adopted retranslation strategies? How does the canonical nature of an already existing translation influence retranslation strategies? Which concrete retranslation strategies do translators of the Bible, the Qur’an and other sacred writings adopt? Which micro-textual (syntax, lexicon, terminology, etc.) and macro-textual choices are made? How can translators of the Bible and the Qur’an deal, both theoretically and in practice, with, among others, problems of sensitivity, intralingual translation, modernization versus archaisation, explicitness versus implicitness, denotation versus connotation, literarity versus functional equivalence?
  • The reception of retranslations of sacred texts. How can we evaluate the success of a given retranslation of the Bible, the Qur’an or other sacred writings? What makes some retranslations more successful than others? What role do various agents play in the canonization process of retranslations of sacred writings? What functions do the intralingual and interlingual retranslations or sacred writings fulfill in the different receiving contexts? How can the assumed lack of authoritative translations of the Qur’an be explained and challenged? How is it possible to compete with established translations of the Bible and the Qur’an? How to account for the unsuccessful reception of some retranslations? What paratextual and other strategies are used to put a retranslation in the market?

Admission procedure

Scholars and/or translators with relevant expertise are invited to submit a methodologically and/or theoretically motivated abstract of maximum 300 words for a 30-minute lecture (including 10 minutes discussion), as well as a short bio-bibliographical note. The conference language will be English. Please note there will be a flat-rate participation fee of € 100,00 to cover catering expenses (two lunches, coffee breaks and the conference dinner) during the three day-conference.

Please send your abstract and bio-bibliographical note to both pieter.boulogne@kuleuven.be and jos.verheyden@kuleuven.be before 1 December 2019. The notification of acceptance is 1 January 2020.

Selected contributions from the conference will be published in an edited volume or special issue of a journal in the field of Translation Studies, after a peer review procedure.

Confirmed keynote lectures

  • The Iranian-Dutch writer Kader Abdolah: ‘Retranslating the Qur’an into Dutch. A conversation with Helge Daniëls’ (KU Leuven)
  • Ahmed Allaithy (American University of Sarjah): ‘Found in Translation ‒ The Untranslatable Qur’an’
  • Paraskevi Arapoglou (Hellenic Bible Society): ‘The curious case of LXX in Greek Orthodoxy: Retranslating within linguistic “dimorphia”’
  • Alexandra Assis Rosa (University of Lisbon): ‘Retranslating Theory and Canonical Texts’
  • Henri Bloemen (KU Leuven): ‘Retranslating the Bible and the Qur’an as Sensitive Texts’
  • Ralph Cleminson (University of Oxford): ‘Perpetual Translation and the Quest for the Canonical: the Holy Scriptures in Slavonic’
  • Sameh Hanna (Leeds University): ‘Retranslation and the re-definition of an ‘authoritative translation’: sociological insights from the Arabic translations of the Bible’
  • Lourens De Vries (VU Amsterdam): ‘The retranslation of holy texts in Christian traditions: questions of authority, actualization and intertextuality’
  • Alexey Somov (Institute for Bible Translation, Russia, Moscow): ‘The Authority of the Old for producing the New: Bible Translations in Russia in the 21st Century’