top of page

Glossary of Orientalisms


Note:  in the text of each entry, users will find terms for Orientalisms sometimes highlighted in bold and sometimes highlighted in italics.  Bold Orientalisms (e.g. Aboriginal Orientalism) refer to main entries in this glossary.  Italicized Orientalisms (e.g. Afro Orientalism) do not have their own entry but are referred to in an another entry, which is indicated by a "See" entry (e.g. Afro Orientalism. See Black Orientalism).



Veiled OrientalismSee Hidden Orientalism.


Vernacular Orientalism

Scholars use this term usually in one of two ways.  First, they use it as a synonym for popular Orientalism—that is the Orientalist prejudices held by the ordinary public as distinct from classical, academic Orientalism.  Second, Eitan Bar-Yosef and other scholars have used this term more narrowly to describe a more complex form of British cultural Orientalism, which historically viewed “the Orient” through the lens of the Bible and biblically grounded British culture.

See also: Biblical Orientalism, Cultural Orientalism, Popular Orientalism, Religious Orientalism.

Sources & Examples: Eitan Bar-Yosef, The Holy Land in English Culture 1799-1917: Palestine and the Question of Orientalism (Oxford, 2005); James E. Kitchen, The British Imperial Army in the Middle East: Morale and Military Identity in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns, 1916-18 (Bloomsbury, 2014); Joshua Ness, “Disraeli and Orientalism: Identity of Culture, Race, and Religion Through His Romanticism of a ‘Jewish Race’” (M.A. thesis, College of Charleston, 2010); Axel Stähler, et al., "Unsettling Questions: Palestine, Israel, the Holy Land and Zion." Wasafiri 24 (2009).

Victorian Orientalism

Scholars use this term and the term "late Victorian Orientalism" to describe the nature and impact of a variety of forms of Orientalism on Britain, particularly, and the English-speaking world more generally in the Victorian era (1819-1901).  A deep, continuing interest in “the Orient” pervaded the era in virtually every facet of British life including academic studies, literature, the visual and plastic arts, music, commerce, religious life, and both popular and high culture—all of which was driven in important part by imperial engagement with Asia including especially British rule in India.  The groundwork for Victorian Orientalism was laid by the publication in French of One Thousand and One Nights (by Antoine Galland, 1704-1717) and numerous subsequent English translations as well as several late 18th century events and developments including Napoleon’s campaigns in Egypt and Syria (1798-1801) and the growing body of Orientalist scholarship spearheaded by Sir William Jones (1846-1794).  Scholars note that Victorian Orientalism was rooted in a complex mixture of Romanticism and imperialism as well as growing commerce with the Orient as Britain expanded its colonial presence in Asia, and it included, especially, an abiding fascination with India.

Edward W. Said (Orientalism, 1978) initiated the contemporary study of Orientalism in the Victorian era with his famously pejorative portrayal of the era, highlighting those aspects of Victorian Orientalist discourse that viewed the Orient as being backward, effeminate, degenerate, diseased, and violent among other things.  Subsequent studies have served to expand and correct Said especially in noting that romantic Victorian Orientalists frequently articulated a much more positive view of the Orient, which was seen as a source of mystical wisdom and spirituality that birthed such religious movements as the Theosophical Society (1875).  In all of this, scholars have found that Victorian Orientalism is difficult to characterize, even broadly, as it grew out of both genuine academic research and fanciful ugly stereotypes, was sometimes nuanced but often crude, and thrived in an imperialistic atmosphere yet bred staunch critics of that imperialism.  While intrigued by mysticism and Asian religions, one of its chief expressions was a continuing infatuation with things Oriental, notably opium, as well as all sorts of commodities, fads, and fashions.  Scholarly investigations of the complexities of Victorian Orientalisms have actually resulted in some controversy among scholars, seen especially in the dispute over Victorientalism and the degree to which Victorian studies should be informed by the notion of Orientalism, especially Saidian Orientalism.  Yet, at heart and for all of this complexity, the majority of Victorians imagined and created Orients that had an essential, unchanging, and shared nature whether mystical or despicable.  Their renderings of the Orient continue to exercise influence on Western Orientalisms down to the present in the form of neo-Victorian Orientalisms. [revised, 1/21]

See also: Aesthetic Orientalism, Academic Orientalism, Architectural Orientalism, Conventional Orientalism, Demotic Orientalism, European Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Literary Orientalism, Missionary Orientalism, Neo-Victorian Orientalism, Occult Orientalism, Orientalist Fad, Orientalist Literature, Positive Orientalism, Romantic Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Seaside Orientalism, Traditional Orientalism, Victorientalism. 

Sources & Examples: Victorian Orientalism:  Ali Abdullah, “Intimate Eyes: A Historiography of European Women Travelers’ Impact on Orientalism.” Synergy 16 (2020); Mark Bevir, "The West Turns Eastward: Madame Blavatsky and the Transformation of the Occult Tradition." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62 (1994); Jalal U. Khan, Perspectives: Romantic, Victorian, and Modern Literature (Cambridge Scholars, 2015); Valerie Kennedy, “Orientalism in the Victorian Era,” n.d. At Oxford Index (, accessed 5/17; Jeffrey D. Lavoie, A Search for Meaning in Victorian Religion: The Spiritual Journey and Esoteric Teachings of Charles Carleton Massey (Lehigh U. Press, 2015); Muhammed A. H. Mukheef, “Morris’ Idea of the East and His Anti-Colonial Attitudes.” Abhath Al-Yarmouk “Lit. & Ling.” 4 (1986); Amna M. Al-Neyadi, “Depicting the Orient in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone.”  International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature 4 (2015); Erin O’Connor, “Preface for a Post-Postcolonial Criticism.” Victorian Studies 45 (2003); Daný van Dam, “A Conscious Failure to Pass: Dressing across Sexual and Racial Borders in Neo-Victorian Fiction.” Neo-Victorian Studies 9 (2017); Denis Vidal, “Max Mulller and the Theosophists or the Other Half of Victorian Orientalism.” In Orientalism and Anthropology: From Max Müller to Louis Dumont (Institut français de Pondichéry, 2001); Bennett Zon, “Science, Theology, and the Simplicity of Chant: Victorian Musicology at War.” Journal of the History of Ideas 75 (2014). Late Victorian Orientalism:  Sharon E. Kelly, “Late Victorian Sexuality and Spiritualism:
The Place of the Paranormal in Queer Erotic Partnerships.” (Ph.D. diss., West Virginia U., 2018); Pavan K. Malreddy, Orientalism, Terrorism, Indigenism: South Asian Readings in Postcolonialism (SAGE, 2015); Eleonora Sasso, “Introduction.” In Late Victorian Orientalism (Anthem Press, 2020); Karen Swartz, “Masters and Servants: A Study concerning the Theosophical Society and Orientalism.” (paper, Linnæus University, n.d.). 

Victorientalism (VictOrientalism)

Erin O’Connor coined this term in 2003 as a play on Edward W. Said’s notion of “Orientalism,” and scholars use it in two contexts.  First, O’Connor herself uses it in the context of her protest over the way in which, in her view, postcolonial studies has invaded and politicized her own field, Victorian literary studies. She argues that postcolonial scholars have forced the field into an ideological straight-jacket by applying Said’s notion of Orientalism to Victorian studies (hence the tongue-in-cheek, ”Victorientalism”), and she particularly blames Gayatri Spivak for this development. O’Connor argues that Victorian literature is far more complex, creative, and pluralistic than Spivak and those who follow her lead allow. O’Connor's arguments sparked a debate as other scholars countered that ideological Victorian Orientalism is not something Spivak and others have imposed on Victorian studies. British Orientalist colonialism and imperialism were real things with real consequences, which must be reckoned with in the study of Victorian era literature.  Second, in 2009, Nick Ottens applied O’Conner’s views to the science fiction subgenre of steampunk, which draws on the British Victorian world to create alternative histories and universes. He felt that an ideological political correctness had also crept into the writing of steampunk and argues that authors can use fictional Victorian Oriental themes without recourse to ideological baggage. He identified his arguments with critics of Said, and his views sparked an intense, at times acrimonious, debate led by two Asian American steampunk bloggers, Jaymee Goh and Deana M. Pho.  They and others argued that the use of Orientalist images and content, however well-intentioned, continues to promote a highly offensive racism that inescapably stereotypes and stigmatizes “Orientals” (e.g. Asian Americans) while preserving white privilege and superiority in the world of steampunk. They held that there is no such thing as an ideologically neutral or free Orientalism. Both the Victorian studies and steampunk debates seem to have abated without a meeting of the minds, and the scholarly use of this term is largely limited to those two debates.  [12/18]

See also: Ideological Orientalism, Literary Orientalism, Neo-Victorian Orientalism, Orientalist Fiction, Racist Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Science Fiction Orientalism, Victorian Orientalism.

Sources & Examples: Victorian Studies Debate: Dana J. Gavin, “ENG Paper #3 Epistemological Alignment,” 2016. At Dana J. Gavin (, accessed 12/18; Deanna V. Mason, “’The Perennial Dramas of the East’: Representations of the Middle East in the Writing and Art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Homan Hunt” (Ph.D. Diss., Queen’s U., 2009); Erin O’Connor, “Preface for a Post-Postcolonial Criticism.” Victorian Studies 45 (2003).  Steampunk Debate: Sarah Gram, “The Politics and Aesthetics of Steampunk,” 2011. At Textual Relations (, accessed 12/18; Elizabeth Ho, Neo-Victorianism and the Memory of Empire (Continuum Literary Studies, 2012); Jha [Jaymee Goh], “Countering Victorientalism,” 2010. At Silver Goggles (, accessed 12/18; Susana Loza, Speculative Imperialisms: Monstrosity and Masquerade in Postracial Times (Lexington Books, 2018); Nick Ottens, “Introduction to Victorientalism,” 2009. At Never Was Magazine (, accessed 12/18; Dru Pagliassotti, “Against VictOrientalism,” 2010. At Dru Pagliassotti (, accessed 12/18; Diana M. Pho, “Leftist Constructs,” 2012. At overland (, accessed 12/18.


Virtual Orientalism

Jane Naomi Iwamura (2011, 2017), drawing on the work of Edward W. Said, uses this frequently cited term to describe a modern-day, complex form of classical Orientalism that is embedded in American popular visual media, including electronic media. These “virtual Orientalisms” covertly reinforce ideologically based images of Asians as having exotic, essential racial identities. Iwamura and other scholars focus especially on popular, naïve portrayals of Eastern religions in Western media, which distort the actual religious complexities of Buddhism, for example, or Islam. Raymond Pun (2013), thus, describes how Google search engines distort and reinvent the Koranic notion of jihad by neglecting the different, ambiguous meanings of the notion and thus reinforce popular Western prejudices against Islam. Virtual Orientalism is often closely linked to commercial enterprises, which seek to financially profit from selling their fanciful, racialist images of “Orientals” in the popular media. Scholars using this term almost always cite Iwamura.  [revised 2/2022]

See also: Aesthetic Orientalism, Cinematic Orientalism, Classical Orientalism, Commercial Orientalism, Contemporary Orientalism, Electronic Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Modernist Orientalism, New Age Orientalism, Oriental Look. Popular Orientalism; Postmodern Orientalism, Religious Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Visual Orientalism.


Sources & Examples: Gregory P. Grieve, Cyber Zen (Routledge, 2017); Jane N. Iwamura, "The Oriental Monk in American Popular Culture." In Religion and Popular Culture in America, (U. of California Press, 2017);  Jane N. Iwamura, Virtual Orientalisms (Oxford, 2011); Helen Kim, et . al. “Asian American Religious History.” The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History (Oxford, 2016); Edward King, Virtual Orientalism in Brazilian Culture (Palgrave McMillan, 2015); Ngoc B. Le, "The Oriental Nun and Representation of Buddhist Female Monastics or Monasticism An Interview with Elizabeth Guthrie (University of Waterloo)." Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies 15 (2020); Jonathan H. X. Lee, Book Review. “Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture.”  Journal of Global Buddhism 13 (2012); Michael Nichols, "Returning the Demon's Gaze: Analyzing the Buddhist Figure of Māra in Popular Culture." The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 29 (2017); Raymond Pun, "Digital Images and Visions of Jihad: Virtual Orientalism and the Distorted Lens of Technology." CyberOrient 7 (2013); Carl Stimson, “’Virtual Orientalism’, a Book Review,” 2019. At Insight Myanmar (, accessed 12/21.

Visual Orientalism

Scholars use this term usually to describe the ways in which a range of visual media have been used to imagine and construct the (Oriental) Other as being essentially different from the (Western) Self. These media include comics, graphic novels, news media, television, and fashion, as well as more traditional visual media such as painting and photography. Scholars observe that most often Orientalists have used these media stereotypically to imagine the Oriental Other as being, among other things, exotic, alien, dangerous, inscrutable, sensuous, lacking in civilization, and immoral. Often, Middle Eastern and other Asian women are the focus of these stereotypes, which draw on such images as the veil, the harem, and belly dancing to define their supposedly exotic and sexually alluring nature. There are other scholars, however, who argue that much of this analysis relies too heavily on the one-sided views of Edward W. Said (Orientalism, 1978) and thus misrepresents the complexities of visual Orientalisms and the differing values and commitments of Western Orientalists. While in theory and to a degree in practice, scholars use this term more broadly than its more narrowly constructed cognate, pictorial Orientalism, there is in fact a good deal of overlap between the two. In many cases, these two terms are used to refer especially to paintings and photographs in virtually the same way.

See also: Aesthetic Orientalism, Avant-garde Orientalism, Chinoiserie, Fashion Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Material Orientalism, Oriental Look, Orientalist Gaze, Pictorial Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Sexual Orientalism, Spiritual Orientalism, Techno-Orientalism, Textual Orientalism, Virtual Orientalism. 

Sources & Examples: Ali Behdad, “Orientalism Matters.” Mfs: Modern Fiction Studies 56 (2010); Joseph A. Boone, The Homoerotics of Orientalism (Columbia, 2014); Elena T. Creef, Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body (New York U., 2004); Elizabeth S. Hurd, “Appropriating Islam: The Islamic Other in the Consolidation of Western Modernity
.” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 12 (2003); Rachael B. Jones, “(Re)Envisioning Self and Other: Subverting Visual Orientalism Through the Creation of Postcolonial Pedagogy” (Ph.D. Diss., U. of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2007); Reina Lewis, “Gender, Orientalism, and Postcolonialism.” In Rethinking Nordic Colonialism: A Postcolonial Exhibition Project in Five Acts (Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, 2006); Reina Lewis, Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation (Routledge, 1996); Giles Tilloston, The Artificial Empire: The Indian Landscapes of William Hodges (Curzon, 2000).

Vitalist Orientalism

Suzanne L. Marchand (2001) coined this rarely used term to describe a form of German scholarly Orientalism, which began in the late 19th century and functioned as a counter-discourse to ideologically-grounded academic Orientalism.  It, instead, imagined an admirable Orient and a degenerate West.

See also: Academic Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Positive Orientalism, Reverse Orientalism.

Sources & Examples: Suzanne L. Marchand, "German Orientalism and the Decline of the West." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145 (2001).

Vulgar Orientalism

Scholars and other commentators use this term generally to refer to blatant and even offensive forms of ideological Orientalism such as those described by Edward W. Said (Orientalism, 1978) in his groundbreaking critique of the Western notion of Orientalism—that is Saidian Orientalism.  Vulgar Orientalisms usually take the form of ignorant, condescending popular Orientalisms that can be “low class” and, at times, reflect unrefined sexual stereotypes and attitudes.  This term is neither rare nor frequently used.  See the entry for blatant Orientalism for a fuller description. [7/20]

See also: Blatant Orientalism, Hard Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Overt Orientalism, Popular Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Sexist Orientalism.

Sources & Examples: Lawrence Cohen, No Aging in India: Alzheimer’s the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things (U. of California, 1998); Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud, Radical Orientalism: Rights, Reform, and Romanticism (Cambridge, 2015); Pete Dale, Popular Music and the Politics of Novelty (Bloomsbury, 2016); Christopher T. Fan, “American Techno-Orientalism: Speculative Fiction and the Rise of China (Ph.D. diss., U. of California, Berkeley,2016); Awais Masood, “’Burka’ and Intellectual Terrorism,” 2010. At AA@Counter Terrorism, Imperialism, Extremism and Bigotry (, accessed 7/10; Pnina Motzafi-Haller, Concrete Boxes: Mizrahi Women on Israel's Periphery (Wayne State U., 2018); Randy, “My Review of Parasite (2019) and the Death Throes of American Global Hegemony,” [2020].  At Medium (, accessed 7/20; Ariel Saramandi, “’There is Too Much Feminism’: On the Rise of the Mauritian Alt-Right,” 2019. At LARB: Los Angeles Review of Books (,accessed 7/20.

bottom of page