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C h a p t e r 8 Volney’s Revolutions ‘‘Orientalism’’ has been portrayed by Edward Said in his eponymous book, first published in 1979, as a very influential, state-sponsored, essentially imperialist and colonialist enterprise. For Said, the Orientalist ideology was rooted in eighteenth-century secularization that threatened the traditional Christian European worldview. That worldview had been reigning for many centuries and was based on the ‘‘Biblical framework.’’ Said held that ‘‘modern Orientalism derives from secularizing elements in eighteenth-century European culture’’ (1979:120) and pointed out the all-important role that the discovery of Oriental religions and languages played in the birth of Orientalism: One, the expansion of the Orient further east geographically and further back temporally loosened, even dissolved, the Biblical framework considerably . Reference points were no longer Christianity and Judaism, with their fairly modest calendars and maps, but India, China, Japan, and Sumer, Buddhism, Sanskrit, Zoroastrianism, and Manu. (p. 120) I quite agree with this. Curiously, though, only Islam—which had the least potential of loosening or dissolving the biblical framework because it made itself use of it—plays a role in Said’s argument. The European discovery of other Asian religions is strangely absent: Zoroastrianism and Brahmanism are only briefly mentioned in the context of Anquetil-Duperron’s studies (p. 76), Hinduism not at all, Confucius once in the context of Fénelon (p. 69), and Buddhism twice more, but (as in the quotation above) only as part of uncommented lists (pp. 232, 259). Focusing on political power and imperialist strategy rather than the power of religious ideology, Said was not in a position to answer how the ‘‘loosening’’ of the biblical framework was PAGE 440 ................. 17751$ $CH8 05-21-10 15:32:26 PS Volney’s Revolutions 441 connected to the discovery of Asian religions and the genesis of modern Orientalism. Robert Irwin (2006:294) rightly criticized the ‘‘newly restrictive sense’’ that Said gave to the term Orientalism: ‘‘those who travelled, studied or wrote about the Arab world.’’ Nevertheless, he declared himself ‘‘happy to accept this somewhat arbitrary delimitation of the subject matter’’ for the very convenient reason that ‘‘it is the history of Western studies of Islam, Arabic and Arab history and culture that interests me most’’ (p. 6). It is thus hardly surprising that non-Islamic oriental religions are as little discussed in Irwin’s book-length study about Orientalism as in Said’s. For example, Buddhism—Asia’s most widespread religion—is only once mentioned in passing, and the religions of Asia’s most populous nations, India and China, play no role at all. While accusing Said of hating ‘‘religion in all its forms,’’ harboring ‘‘anti-religious prejudice,’’ and failing ‘‘properly to engage with the Christian motivations of the majority of pre-twentieth-century Orientalists’’ (p. 294), Irwin’s portrayal of Anquetil-Duperron and of William Jones shows an almost Saidian lack of insight into religious motivations: Anquetil-Duperron ’s striking religiosity is completely ignored in favor of his ‘‘anti-imperialism ’’ (pp. 125–26), and treatment of Jones’s religious motivations is limited to Irwin’s cursory remarks to the effect that Jones ‘‘hoped to find evidence in India for the Flood of Genesis’’ and had a ‘‘somewhat archaic and confused’’ ethnology in which ‘‘Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans and Peruvians all descended from Noah’s son, Ham’’ (p. 124). Furthermore, Irwin criticizes Said for attributing far too much importance to Orientalism. In Irwin’s view the ‘‘heyday of institutional Orientalism only arrived in the second half of the twentieth century.’’ Before that time, Orientalism was a relatively insignificant affair given that its exponents, according to Irwin, usually were just ‘‘individual scholars, often lonely and eccentric men’’ driven by curiosity rather than colonialist and imperialist rapacity. This is reflected in the title of the original English edition of Irwin’s book: ‘‘For Lust of Knowing.’’1 Irwin’s Orientalists, ‘‘always few in number and rarely famous figures,’’ were at best influential in literary, historical, theological , cultural, and, of course, oriental studies (p. 5) but had hardly any impact outside the literary world. For the most part they were just a bunch of relatively isolated ‘‘dabblers, obsessives, evangelists, freethinkers, madmen, charlatans, pedants, romantics’’ driven not by grand imperialist dreams but by ‘‘many competing agendas and styles of thought’’ (p. 7). This final chapter examines a member of this eccentric crowd, ConPAGE 441 ................. 17751$ $CH8 05-21-10 15:32:26 PS 442 chapter 8 stantin François de Chasseboeuf Volney (1757...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812200058
Related ISBN
9780812242614
MARC Record
OCLC
794700616
Pages
568
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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