December 5th to 12th

John Tolan participated in the conference « L’influence complexe de l’orientalisme dans les discours scientifiques sur l’islam » organized in cooperation between the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley and the Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologique (CADIS) at the EHESS, Paris 11 - 12 December 2014. 

He gave a paper entitled Beyond Orientalism:understanding Early European Christian reactions to Islam - Au-delà de l’Orientalisme : comprendre les premières réactions chrétiennes à l’islam

Since Edward Said published Orientalism in 1978, his ideas have colored much of the research on medieval attitudes towards Islam and toward the East more generally.  While Said’s conceptual framework has often been put to good use, at other times it has been used clumsily.  Said saw Orientalism as a discourse that justified European colonial conquest and domination of large swathes of the “Orient”.  While some medieval authors (chroniclers of the first crusade, for example) indeed use the negative image of the “Saracens” and their religion to justify war against them, much pre-modern Christian European discourse on Islam came on the contrary from those who lived under Muslim rule or who feared being conquered by Muslims: Said’s Orientalist model cannot be transferred unreflexively to explain discourse coming from very different social realities.  Indeed, if we are to use Said’s categories to understand, say, the virulent anti-Muslim polemics of Eulogius and Paulus Alvarus in ninth-century Córdoba, we should rather see them as manifestations of what Said calls a “resistance culture”, a subversive discourse directed against the dominant “colonial” culture of Islam.  Too often, discussion of “Orientalism” past and present degenerates into denunciations of colonial or neo-colonial attitudes supposedly incarnated or defended by those dubbed as “orientalists”.  A closer look at some of the foundational anti-Muslim texts of the European tradition on the contrary reveals a profound ambivalence on the part of Christian authors to a powerful and appealing rival religion and civilization.


Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes