Gregory Bell

Senior Lecturer
Associate Director, Arabic Language Program
Office Phone
Green Hall 0-N-15


  • Arabic-language teaching
  • Modern Arabic literature
  • Sultanate of Oman

I have been a Lecturer in Arabic here in the Department of Near Eastern Studies since 2007. Prior to that, I worked at Princeton’s Institute for the Transregional Study of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. My interest in Arabic and the Middle East stems from my time as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in the Sultanate of Oman. My research interests include modern Arabic literature as well as the Arabic language in all its facets.

I was born and raised in Ohio and attended Kenyon College, where I earned my BA and majored in Philosophy. As the market for philosophers was somewhat soft when I graduated, I applied and was accepted for service in the Peace Corps. I spent 1980–1982 living and working in the Sultanate of Oman. My work there was in the field of public health and sanitation. While in Oman, I learned the Omani dialect of Arabic, but found I could not read or understand the standard Arabic I saw in newspapers and heard on television or radio. This experience of being illiterate was new and frustrating to me and, therefore, I resolved to study and master standard Arabic (al-Fusha) upon my return to the States. I naïvely thought this would be a project of a year or two!

Back in the U.S., I began as one of the older students in Arabic 101 at The Ohio State University and eventually earned my MA in Arabic there in 1989. I then went on to earn my PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. I was fortunate in the course of my studies to be able to spend a summer studying Arabic in Jordan and a year in Cairo at the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA). I also taught Arabic courses from first to fourth year at Ohio State and Penn. My dissertation research focused on the poetry and thought of one of the more fascinating figures in modern Arabic letters, Mikhail Naimy (Nu`aymah. My dissertation explores the influence of theosophical and other religious thought on Naimy’s writing. Professor Roger Allen advised my dissertation work.

My recent articles include “‘Shorty’ by Mikhail Naimy: Translated and Introduced by Gregory J. Bell,” Middle Eastern Literatures 19, no. 2 (August 2016): 206–14, “One Face of the Hero: Reading Yahya Haqqi’s ‘Qindīl Umm Hāshim’ as Myth,” The Journal of Arabic Literature 41, no. 1–2 (2010): 66–86, and “Mikhail Naimy 1889–1988” in Essays in Arabic Literary Biography 1850–1950, ed. Roger Allen (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 251–64.

Here at Princeton I have taught ARA 101-102, 105-107, 301-302, 303 and 401. I have also introduced and taught two new courses, ARA 308: Theory and Practice of Arabic-to-English Translation and ARA 309: Advanced Arabic Reading: The Short Story. I thoroughly enjoy teaching Arabic at all levels: it is exciting to help students progress from no knowledge of Arabic to novice, intermediate and advanced levels. I hope that, as a non-native speaker who learned Arabic in the same way my students are learning it, I am able offer insights that will help them tackle Arabic.

As is obvious, my original, naïve one- or two-year project of studying Arabic has turned into a lifetime engagement; however, it turns out that this is one of the things I like best about Arabic: one can always find new aspects of the language to explore and new challenges to take on.