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Religion Library: Islam

Historical Perspectives

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Said's critique of the power exercised by scholarly discourse about "the Other" (those who are not us) sent shockwaves through academia, permanently altering the dynamics of such established disciplines as anthropology, history, sociology, and comparative religions. Many now seek to study Islam and Muslims with careful sensitivity to their own inherited assumptions. While Said has been rightly criticized from a number of positions, the majority of his critics accept his conclusions in principle.

Edward Said. Source: Public DomainOthers, less interested in entering the debate over the validity of Said's claims, have taken his argument into the field to conduct fresh analyses of Islamic cultures and histories, and of the colonial empires that sought to subjugate the Muslims. Through this fresh and original scholarship, the richness and density of our shared knowledge on Islam and Muslims is increasing. For excellent examples of studies of the diversity and complexity to be found within specific localities and historical moments, see Yann Richard's Shi'ite Islam: Polity, Ideology, and Creed (Blackwell 1995), Peter Lamborn Wilson's Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy (Autonomedia 1988), or Lisa Lowe's Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms (Cornell 1991).

Study Questions:
1.     What contributed to the identity of Muslims as “anti-Western”?
2.     Describe the relationship of the media and Islam in the West.
3.     Who is Edward Said and what does his book Orientalism contribute to the discourse of the creation of Islamic identity?


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