CANCELLED Orientalism and Its Discontents: Rethinking Approaches to Islam and Islamic Studies in Modern Europe

AHA Session 17
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Edin Hajdarpasic, Loyola University Chicago
Brenna Moore, Fordham University
Barbara Spackman, University of California, Berkeley

Session Abstract

N.B: This proposal is being submitted jointly for the MLA and AHA conventions.

As American troops invaded Iraq in 2003, Edward Said wrote a new preface to his famed and much-debated study Orientalism (originally published in 1978). In clarifying his work, Said stated: “What I do argue also is that there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples…that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand, knowledge…that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war.” This distinction between “the will to understand for purposes of co-existence and humanistic enlargement of horizons” and “the will to dominate for the purposes of control and external dominion” seems self-evident, yet it remains curiously underexplored. Indeed, most studies of Orientalist knowledge production (including Said’s 2003 preface) remain preoccupied with the latter form of knowledge used to exert domination and control over the Other. But what other kinds of European Orientalist knowledges have existed, among what audiences, and for what purposes? In particular, what approaches to Islam could constitute more “horizon-expanding” forms of power-knowledge?

This panel aims to open up new questions about the different uses of Orientalist knowledge and diverse engagements with Islam across modern Europe. Professor Barbara Spackman (Italian Studies, UC Berkeley) will examine cases of conversion to Islam on the part of two early twentieth-century European women. These Italian and French examples of Islamophilia revise, or put to ideologically divergent uses, the stereotypes of European Orientalism itself, even as they remain grounded in many of its fundamental assumptions about an “Islamic East.” Professor Brenna Moore (Theology, Fordham University) uses her new research to explore the friendship between Mary Kahil and Louis Massignon in early twentieth-century France and Egypt, noting how their projects—at once religious, scholarly, utopian, and political—worked to perforate the imagined impenetrable wall between Islam and Christianity. Their transnational friendships become a rich environment to rethink the practice of Orientalism among Catholics in Europe and the Middle East. Professor Edin Hajdarpasic (History, Loyola University Chicago) uses a microhistorical approach to examine the life of a Yugoslav interwar convert to Islam whose Orientalist studies took him to Spain and ultimately France in a quest for a new perspective on the recurring debates over the foreignness or indigeneity of Islam in Europe. Susannah Heschel (Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College), who has written a number of studies on German-Jewish Orientalist scholarship, will chair the panel and offer comments and questions for our collective discussion. The overarching theme of the panel thus interrogates Said’s distinction between knowledge uses and explores whether, when, or how it is possible for Orientalist knowledge to be informed by a “will to understand for purposes of co-existence and humanistic enlargement of horizons”?

The panel participants come from different disciplinary backgrounds yet converge on a remarkably cohesive set of issues, presenting a great opportunity for MLA and AHA attendees to engage in interdisciplinary conversations.

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