The relationship between Occident and Orient has been one of varying degrees of a complex hegemony since the late 18th century. After September 11, 2001, the Western world sought to build a coalition against terrorism. Often, this public enemy is seen as synonymous with a stereotypical rendering of the Islamic world.
Still, our images of the Orient are not entirely negative. Since antiquity, it has been a place of romance, exotic beings, remarkable experiences, and haunting memories and landscapes. Our collective imagination draws to mind oriental tales, despotism, wisdom and philosophy, and impressive mosques. But like it’s opposite, the Occident, the Orient is a man-made construction; it is merely a tradition of thought and imagery that has infused it with reality for Westerners.
Is it possible that contemporary perceptions of the Middle East and Islam still stand very much in the tradition of Orientalism. Should they be interpreted in a constructivist way? How, then, should we understand recent expressions of a political Islam, gender relations, fundamentalism, or suicide bombers? More importantly, how do we build from imagination, construction, and representation to achieve new balances of power and integration, multiculturalism, and democratization?
After completing this course, students are able to:
- deconstruct ‘the European idea of the Orient and Islam.’
- discuss contemporary phenomena such as Islamic politicization.
- describe how Cultural entities are not natural, God-given, or stable, but constructed and occasionally even invented.
- critique the use of power in knowledge creation.
The course is taught over five weeks with four meetings a week. Class consists of lectures, working seminars, and analyses of multimedia data. Lectures occur on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. On Tuesday afternoons, working seminars (readings and student presentations) are planned. To organize these seminar sessions, each student writes a short essay (1,250 words) on an assigned chapter of the reading. Students who write essays for a particular meeting are primarily responsible for leading the discussion that day. On Thursday afternoons, we analyze films and illustrated representations such as picture books and magazines.