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"I can't breathe."  George Floyd, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 25 May 2020

Getting Started

A Quick Contents Guide

This website provides a set of aides for the study of Orientalism.  They are:

  • Glossary of Orientalisms, which contains dozens of entries briefly describing each term, which range from Aboriginal Orientalism to Zionist Orientalism.


  • Main Bibliography, which is an extensive bibliography of books, articles, and other sources directly related to the study of Orientalism.

  • Quotations, which contains a selection of scholarly descriptions of Orientalism.






This painting, The Snake Charmer, was painted by the French Orientalist artist, Jean-Leon Gereme (1824-1904), in about 1879 and was the cover art for the first edition of Edward W. Said's book, Orientalism (1978).  More about the painting.


In 1977, "Orientalism" was an old-fashioned name for a set of academic fields dedicated to what had once been widely known as "Oriental studies" in days gone by.  Scholars had also used the term "Orientalism" to describe the languages, cultures, fashions, arts, and societies of the Eastern peoples and nations they called, "Oriental". It was an old, slightly musty, but honorable word that carried with it a lingering sense of the exotic. Yes, there was some unease about the notion of Orientalism in some scholarly circles (hence the growing shift toward using terms like "Asian studies" in its place) and a few outright critics of it; but for the most part in 1977 the word "Orientalism" was uncontroversial if a bit archaic. In 1979, just two short years later, Orientalism had become a hotly debated notion among scholars in several academic fields, no longer musty and no longer simply taken for granted. And while it remained for some a good word to name a good thing, for many others "Orientalism" was suddenly a window into the horrors and immoralities of Western colonialism. It was a dualistic ideology that historically had promoted Western domination by imagining and constructing "Orientals" as being essentially, irredeemably inferior. In between, of course, Dr. Edward W. Said of Columbia University penned his now famous, groundbreaking book, Orientalism (1978).

Things have never been the same. In the decades since 1978, scholars in a wide range of fields and working in nearly every corner of the planet have praised, condemned, chewed on, and elaborated on Said's original thesis that classical Orientalism was in fact an ideology of domination. Over those decades, scholars have discovered (and sometimes made up) literally hundreds of "Orientalisms"; and they have found that the whole notion of Orientalism is much more complicated than it seems reading Said. It is not just about Asia. It is not just an ideology of domination. It is, indeed, not just one thing. One of the key challenges students of Orientalism(s) have long struggled with, in fact, has been to transcend the black-and-white categories of Orientalist ideology even as they themselves continue to "gaze" upon all of the Orientalisms they have discovered.

There is a good deal at stake in all of this.  As the Earth grows more crowded and hotter with each passing year, the greatest challenges we face are to be better stewards of the planet and better neighbors to each other.  Our future as a single race inhabiting a single global biosphere depends on how we meet these challenges—and whether or not we do so with a degree of wisdom based on knowledge of our natural world and our social-cultural world.  Knowledge is not the only key to wisdom but without knowledge wisdom is not possible, and this is where the study of Orientalism comes in.  It is about how we think about each other—how we "imagine and construct" each other and how our human imagination of what others are like can and all too often does imprison them in ugly cells of prejudice and injustice.  The study of Orientalism is an inquiry into the nature of injustice and prejudice in the particular context of the West's long, long encounter with Asia—and the global implications of that encounter.

 However, nothing is that simple and straightforward, and the study of Orientalism is not just an inquiry.  It is also a debate—a debate on what actually constitutes racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism and where these things are or are not found.  Those who study the aesthetics of Orientalism contend, for example, that their study is also a study in creativity, beauty, and the ways in which artists and crafts people can combine East and West in new and stimulating ways.  Those who study the politics of Orientalism respond, however, that the aesthetic beauty that arises out of Orientalism is still corrupted by the injustices. 

The purpose of this website is to provide tools that will help students of Orientalism better navigate this important and complicated arena of study. To that end, it contains:

  • Glossary of Orientalisms, which contains dozens of entries briefly describing each term, which range from abstract Orientalism at one end to Zionist Orientalism at the other.

  • Main Bibliography, which contains an extensive bibliography of books, articles, and other sources directly related to the study of Orientalism.

  • A Collection of Essays, which explore issues and ideas concerning the notion of Orientalism.

  • Bibliography of Christian Orientalism that contains a bibliography of resources related to the study of the particular field of Christian Orientalism.

  • And Quotations, which contains a selection of scholarly descriptions of Orientalism.


It should be noted, finally, that this site is dedicated to the study of Orientalism in English using English-language sources.  There is too much material in English to even consider, let alone attempt anything else.

This website and its various pages are an ongoing retirement project.  Nothing is or ever will be done so long as I have the energy and interest to work on it.  I continue to add entries to the bibliography, the quotations page, and especially the glossary of Orientalisms, which is the centerpiece of the website, as well as undertake extensive revisions of older entries in the glossary.  This website, then, is always "under construction," but what does not change is its goal to promote and support the continued study of Orientalist ideologies to the end that ours will one day be a green, peaceful, and just world.  Amen. 

Herb Swanson

June 2019

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