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HomeBibliotherapies abroad: from Arabian Nights to mangas

Bibliotherapies abroad: from Arabian Nights to mangas

Bibliothérapies d’ailleurs : des « Mille et une nuits » au manga

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Published on Tuesday, April 07, 2020


The idea that books can cure is very popular in contemporary Western culture, where workshops of « bibliotherapy » and books aiming at strengthening or maintaining mental or physical health blossom.



The idea that books can cure is very popular in contemporary Western culture, where workshops of « bibliotherapy » and books aiming at strengthening or maintaining mental or physical health blossom. This new attitude towards reading is a turning point in the conception of literature’s role since 1950 : whereas during many years, literary works as well as critical approaches had developed the idea that the text was a reflexive, closed structure, this new set of images and practices connect literature not only to the aesthetic sphere, but also to everyday life.

Such a conception in Western areas does, however, echoes a very ancient extra-European tradition: although the word « bibliotherapy » appears to be a Western creation, it has prestigious ancestors, such as the Indian Pañchatantra or the Arabian Nights, which, like contemporary bibliotherapy, display in two different ways how powerful telling a simple story can be. In the Pañchatantra or in similar works such as The Parrot’s tale or The Seven Vizirs, the tale has an exemplary value and is destined to act morally on the one who listens to it: very close to the literary genre of the « mirrors for princes », it displays the idea that books can contribute to moral self-improvment. In the Arabian Nights, the frame tale has a much more down-to-earth effect: as Aboubakr Chraïbi has shown, the stories by Scheherazade have a pacifying effect because they allow time, and the sultan’s terrible wrath, to pass. These Eastern literary models reflect the two tendencies that define contemporary bibliotherapy, which is supposed to have effects either on the intellectual and moral sphere, either on the most physiological mechanisms. As such, they relate to the double ethical role played by literature, as a model of behaviour and as a guide to judgement and decision making. Whether they appear as sources, influences or alternative models of healing, these foreign images and practices of bibliotherapy reflected by literature deserve a closer examination. The Groupe d’Etudes Orientales, Slaves et Néo-helléniques (GEO, UR 1340) is an excellent host for such an examination of practices and poetics of foreign « bibliotherapies » : a research team gathering specialists of literatures, cultures and languages of extra-European areas, from Middle-East to Japan, and from Antiquity to the contemporary period, the GEO invites researchers to a common reflection on the different models of bibliotherapy in extra-European traditions, but also on the contemporary appropriations of this notion beyond Europe and North America, along the following lines :

What kind of « care » for foreign bibliotherapies?

The first set of questions concerns the therapeutic models imagined by fictions about the curative power of books or the actual curative processes through fiction used or represented in Eastern cultures. How singular are they, in terms of conception of medicine and literature? How are they connected to a history and a geography of reading practices? How do they relate to the opposition between physical healing on the one hand and, on the other hand, a more figurative cure, ranging from self-care to support singular « forms of life »? How do these models help us to understand the relationship between fiction, healing and the notion of care?

Practices et poetics

Speaking about « bibliotherapy » means both a set of (medical, psychological, artistic) practices and an imaginary figured in fiction itself. The example of the Japanese manga is very telling in that regard and constitutes a very interesting field of study: on the one hand, manga reflects from the inside on the possibilities of existential support or healing provided by books, as for example in the series The Master of Books, where a librarian supplies to the various individuals he meets books liable to solve their problems. On the other hand, however, manga is often analysed from a psychological or sociological perspective which investigates its role in the formation by nowadays teenagers of their idiosyncrasic « form of life », in Japan and elsewhere (see for example Les Mangas pour jeunes filles, figures du sexuel à l’adolescence by Joëlle Nouhet-Roseman). How do practices and poetics connect in these examples? How do such interactions testify of the social role and functions of literature?

Network of influences

As said before, with the idea that books can heal, great models from Eastern traditions immediately come to mind, suggesting that these models have had an extended influence until today. One can think of the medieval The Seven Sages of Rome which is based on an Asian, most probably Indian, canvas, or of the reception of the Arabian Nights and other Arabian tales, which Victor Chauvin has extensively studied in his monumental Bibliographie des ouvrages arabes ou relatifs aux Arabes publiés dans l’Europe chrétienne de 1810 à 1885 (1892-1922). Does the extra-European tradition have a role in the formation of the contemporary idea of bibliotherapy and how? What classical texts have contributed to form the Western imaginary of the power of the books? How does the model have effect and is it altered in the process?

To cure and be cured

In foreign bibliotherapeutic fictions or practices establishing a link between reading and cure, who does initiate the healing process and who does receive it? What are their characteristics and particularities? One can think of the numerous feminine voices among healing storytellers, fromScheherazade to Iulia Voznessenskaya’s Women Decameron (1986). But one can also turn to the real or imagined reception of these tales: do they put forward specific visions of community or of literary communication? This investigation of the people concerned by the therapeutic relationship that the book establishes enables us to stress the differences and specificities of the therapeutic uses of the book outside Western cultures.

Submission guidelines

Proposals (one page with bio-bibliographical sketch included) should be sent to Victoire Feuillebois (feuillebois@unistra.fr) and Anthony Mangeon (amangeon@unistra.fr)

by May 31, 2020.

The scientific committee will send word to the applicants by June 15, 2020.

Scientific Committee

  • Victoire Feuillebois (GEO, Université de Strasbourg)
  • Anthony Mangeon (Configurations littéraires, Université de Strasbourg)


  • Université de Strasbourg
    Strasbourg, France (67)


  • Sunday, May 31, 2020


  • livre, bibliothérapie


  • Victoire Feuillebois
    courriel : feuillebois [at] unistra [dot] fr

Information source

  • Victoire Feuillebois
    courriel : feuillebois [at] unistra [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Bibliotherapies abroad: from Arabian Nights to mangas », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, April 07, 2020, https://doi.org/10.58079/14sb

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