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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Another look at Orientalism : Western literature in the face of Islam Tastekin, Emel


Another Look at Orientalism seeks to establish a genealogical link between the fields of literary criticism and Islamic studies through a case study of the Qur’anic scholarship of Abraham Geiger (1810-1874). Responding to Edward Said’s thesis in Orientalism (1978), which polemically subordinates all Orientalist scholarship of the nineteenth century to some form of imperialist motive, this dissertation argues that Geiger, as a member of the Jewish diaspora in a German-speaking land, reacted against the Christian bias in the philological scholarship of his time by highlighting the heading “Abrahamic” in his work Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? (1833). I see Geiger’s work as one of the first attempts to critique the internal imperialism of Western/European culture and, as such, a precursor of comparative and postcolonial literary studies of the twentieth century. From a theoretical angle, I combine Jacques Derrida’s philosophy, particularly on “Abrahamic hospitality” and “exemplarity,” with perspectives drawn from diaspora and postcolonial studies, such as those of Aamir Mufti, Jonathan and Daniel Boyarin, Sander Gilman, Susannah Heschel and Amos Funkenstein. The aim is to show that Geiger’s pioneering influence on the “objective” study of Islam—however motivated by his defence of Judaism in face of Christianity—should be seen as a gesture of hospitality towards Islam. I ultimately argue that Islam was not always exterior but also implicated in the construction of modern European identity. In the first chapter, I show how the corroboration of a Judaeo-Christian essence in Western literary criticism, particularly in the works of canonical critics like Matthew Arnold and Erich Auerbach, was informed by the nineteenth-century background of the “Jewish question.” In the second chapter, I trace how postmodern Jewish theory, as influenced by Derrida’s philosophy, has contended with the supersessionist and hegemonic implications of the Judaeo-Christian “hyphen.” Next, I turn to my case study of Abraham Geiger and contextualize his work with respect to the methods of German Orientalism and in relation to the German-Jewish emancipation struggle. I then analyze Geiger’s Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? in the light of Derrida’s philosophy of exemplarity and hospitality, as explained in Chapter Two.

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