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Orientalist/ism


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Orientalism, as defined in Edward Said's seminal work with the same title (being one of the most important books published in the last 100 years in my opinion, and one I just revisited recently), describes the way in which long standing 'academic' traditions stemming from the west concerning other cultures/religions are NOT the coolly detached, objective works they claim to be, but rather works which consciously and subconsciously carry a whole body of presumptions that originate from a precolonial period European fear of others (Said uses Islam as the example in his book). Later work dealing with the 'orient' embodied these irrational (and some perhaps rational) fears, which were carried through western culture via literature, societies, universities etc. What they resulted in was a one way dialog between whites about other communities. Subsequently (or concurrently) the ideas from such works became central to administrative policy during the colonial period.

So what we are talking about is the creation of widely disseminated 'information' that purports to be objective but in reality is far from this, and is really a controlling mechanism tool for the societies under study in orientalist academic 'laboratories'. These enduring attitudes infect many branches of social sciences, linguistics, religious studies, history, governmental foreign policy etc. etc. It is interesting to note the role played by philologists in all this, especially the ones who encountered Sanskrit in India (i.e. William Jones).

Said explains how these long standing traditions effect and influence even the American policy of his times and how despite the appearance of evolution and change in academic work certain basic assumptions have never been relinquished, especially the one that maintains an inferiority between the orientalist subject and the 'defining' orientalist.

Hope this helps?

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So to put simply its a study of other cultures but with a presumption that any good/positive in that culture originates from a western/euro source?

Is this different from the study of subjeccts like Egyptology , Indology etc? Or is the pre-supposition of the 'ologies different?

That is just one example of how Orientalism works. Orientalism covers all studies of the 'orient' by the 'occidental' west. What Edward Said says (in the original work) is that he believes that whilst SOME progression might have taken place with the orientalism of Africa and say India, the one that remained the most retrogressive and obstinate was that towards Islam and Arabs. He says that the kind of racist comments that were commonly made about everyone (for example Jews, Arabs and Blacks) in past orientalism has shifted with only Muslims/Arabs being on the receiving end of the more stereotype statements.

Personally I just feel that western orientalists have just learned to use more subtle language to mask their underlying notions of supremacy. For me W. H. McLeod was a text book modern orientalist on Sikhs.

In my view the different ologies now represent different developments in orientalism and have their own flavour (or style of attack). Said makes the point that the economic and strategic importance of the Arab territory gives the orientalism from there its own agenda and importance to the westerners who want to dominate the region economically and culturally.

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