Orientalisms in the interpretation of Islamic philosophy

Radical Philosophy 135 (2006)
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In this paper, I argue that Edward Said’s central thesis in Orientalism has a direct explanatory role to play in our understanding of the work produced in at least one area of scholarship about the Arab and Islamic worlds, namely Arab-Islamic philosophy from the classical or medieval period. Moreover, I claim that it continues to play this role not only for scholarship produced in the West by Western scholars but also within the Arab world itself. After recalling some traditional varieties of Orientalism in the study of Islamic philosophy, I go on to isolate some neo-Orientalist theses and positions. Then I identify what I call “Oriental Orientalism” in the study of Islamic philosophy, which originates in the Arab world itself. In conclusion, I speculate as to why Orientalism persists in scholarship about the Islamic world, more than a quarter of a century after Said first unmasked it. Finally, I distinguish two accounts of Said's interpretive stance and attempt to justify a particular reading of his philosophical framework.

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Muhammad Ali Khalidi
CUNY Graduate Center


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