In June 2011 Roger Allen retired from his position as the Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy-League institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740 in Philadelphia. He served Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations for 43 years. From 2005-11 he served as Chair of the Department. In 2008 he was elected President-elect of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and served as the association’s president in the year 2009-2010.
He obtained his doctoral degree in modern Arabic literature from Oxford University in 1968, the first student to obtain a doctoral degree in that field at Oxford, under the supervision of Dr. M.M. Badawi. The topic of the dissertation was a study (and English translation) of Muhammad al-Muwaylihi’s renowned narrative, Hadith `Isa ibn Hisham (`Isa Ibn Hisham’s Tale); it was later published in book form as A Period of Time (1st [microfiche] edition, 1974; 2nd edition 1992). Roger Allen has retained a life-long interest in the writings of the Al-Muwaylihi family, and in 1998 he was asked by Professor Gaber Asfour, Director-General of the Supreme Council for Culture in Egypt, to prepare an edition of the complete works of Muhammad al-Muwaylihi (2002), and later of his father, Ibrahim al-Muwaylihi (2007), for publication in a series of “complete works.”
In 1968 Roger Allen emigrated from his native-city of Bristol in England to the United States and took a position in Arabic language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This position is actually the oldest professorial post in Arabic (as a separate language in its own right) in the United States, dating back to 1788. At the university he has taught many generations of students, now including some of the most distinguished members of the younger generation of specialists in Arabic literature. He has also been very involved in the improvement of methods of teaching the Arabic language in American universities and colleges. He has written a textbook (Let’s Learn Arabic [with Adel Allouche], 1986-88) and from 1986 till 2002 conducted many workshops on language teaching in the USA, Europe, and the Arab world, as the national proficiency trainer in Arabic for the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).