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).



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 to describe the various ways in which Orientalism was used in Britain’s Victorian Era (from 1830s to the first decade of the 20th century), an era of widespread interest in Asia including especially India, to imagine and construct the Oriental Other in a large variety of ways and through virtually every medium available. Elements of Victorian Orientalism included British colonialism and imperialism, the rising middle-class, scholarly academic Orientalism, the influence of Romantic Orientalism,  missionary Orientalism, a deep interest in opium addiction, and a growth in interest in occult Orientalism. In all of this, the dominant themes were those of Saidian Orientalism (including ideological Orientalism), which imagined the Oriental Other as being essentially, irredeemably inferior in all ways except, for some, in mystical spirituality. The Orient was thus constructed to be exotic, backward, feminine (weak), heathen, in decline, barbaric, ignorant, and so on—always in a dualistic, mirror-image contrast to a supposedly superior Britain and West. For some, however, the Orient was also the source of mystical, spiritual knowledge and in that sense superior to the West. Edward W. Said in his book, Orientalism (1978), drew on Victorian Orientalism as one model and source for his critical description of European Orientalism generally.

See also: Aesthetic Orientalism, Architectural Orientalism, Demotic Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Missionary Orientalism, Neo-Victorian Orientalism, Occult Orientalism, Positive Orientalism, Romantic Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Seaside Orientalism, Sexual Orientalism, Traditional Orientalism, Victorientalism. 

Sources & Examples: Jeffrey Cass, Orientalism: Contextual Approaches and Pedagogical Practices (Ohio State U., 2006); Valerie Kennedy, “Orientalism in the Victorian Era,” n.d. At Oxford Index (, accessed 5/17; 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); 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).

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, anti-Victorientalist 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 Said’s critics, 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 Victorientalist 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, 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

Associated with the work of Jane Naomi Iwamura, this term names the process by which non-Asian cultures, particularly in the United States, produce and use imagined Asian spiritualties, turning them into media-created and media-driven stereotypes of the iconic “Oriental monk.” Virtual Orientalisms represent a way in which Western cultures imagine and consume idealized Oriental spiritualties especially in the digital age.

Sources & Examples: Jane N. Iwamura, Virtual Orientalisms: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture (Oxford, 2011); Helen Jin Kim, et al., “Asian American Religious History.” In The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History (Oxford, 2016); Edward King, Virtual Orientalism in Brazilian Culture (McMillan, 2015).

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 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, Fashion Orientalism, Ideological Orientalism, Oriental Look, Orientalist Gaze, Pictorial Orientalism, Saidian Orientalism, Sexual Orientalism, Spiritual Orientalism, Techno-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 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.