Orientalism and the Origins of Islamic Studies
According to simplistic textbook knowledge about Edward Said’s Orientalism, there was an intimate complicity between oriental studies and colonial domination. Since its first publication in 1978, the allegations of Orientalism, the sophisticated polemic of a learned academic and public intellectual from the United States, have become conventional wisdom about an entire scholarly field. In analyzing the origins and rise of the academic discipline of Islamic studies, this book challenges this fundamentally reductive and pejorative interpretation of European scholarship on Islam. Applying both macro- and micro level perspectives, the book investigates the complexities of the relationship between religion, science, and colonial politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this way, it revisits and challenges the questionable truism of an almost complete alignment of Islamic studies with colonialism. Rather than a critique of Said’s polemic, this book puts on trial the trivialization of his work by investigating the emergence of Islamic studies as a modern academic discipline. Which role did European imperialism play in the making of this scholarly discipline? To what extent does the life and work of some of the founding fathers of Islamic studies resemble the stereotypes of Saidian orientalism? How did the social boundary negotiations between religion, science, and politics take place in the historical context of European colonialism? In answering these questions, the book provides a historical sociology of knowledge of Islamic Studies.
Published: Oct 1, 2026