Doha Institute for Graduate Studies (DI) organized the inaugural lecture for the academic year 2022 – 2023 on Monday September 19, 2022, titled “Orientalism and Occidentalism, Five Centuries of History”. It was presented by Dr Henry Laurance, Professor of History of the Contemporary Arab world at the College de France – Paris and moderated by Dr Abdelwahab El Affendi, President and Provost of DI.
The lecture took place in the main auditorium of Doha Institute and attracted members of the academic and administrative bodies, researchers from the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and students of DI.
Dr Laurance has started the lecture by defining Orientalism as the search for knowledge of the ancient societies of the Mediterranean, North Africa and the African coast civilizations, explaining that this geographical extent was a space for communication, which allowed the emergence of ideas, literature and goods.
Dr Laurence has also stated that it was not until after the period of the great European discoveries and the birth of overseas empires in the sixteenth century, that the Europeans came to know their Muslim neighbors. While the Muslims had geopolitical knowledge that was drawn from the Ottomans, and they also knew Europe from the tomes and from the Ottoman ambassadors.
The professor of the Contemporary Arab and Islamic World History has pointed out that there was a period of equilibrium until the eighteenth century, as there were trade and political relations between Europeans and the ancient empires in China, India, Japan, Iran and the Ottomans due to the convergence of economic and military weights.
Then the relationship began to change in the middle of the eighteenth century due to the industrial revolution and colonial campaigns that produced a different type of knowledge highlighting European supremacy and created a hegemonic movement that led to the separation of Europe from the world, pointing out that European thinkers considered Europe to be the future of humanity.
According to him, European narratives have changed throughout history with Europe directing special narratives to the East. This attracted the attention of the Easterners especially with the beginning of the colonial campaigns and pushed them to feel danger and to launch the resistance movements in their various ways. But one of the paradoxes of Orientalism is that it gave Eastern societies tools to withstand and resist Europe, through the Orientalists’ study of the ancient civilizations of these people, which gave them the keys to their rooted civilization.
In order to resist foreign domination, the lecturer explained that the orient had to adopt Western modernity in order to be able to resist it, considering that this is how the great convergence is taking place today. Where resynchronization is done through the mechanisms of globalization that aim to remove differences, which does not prevent identity conflicts between societies or within it.
There were many questions and interventions about the historical stages of the formation of foreign ideas and different perceptions in Europe to resist hegemony during the lecture.
It is noteworthy that this inaugural lecture is the sixth in a series of inaugural lectures organized by the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.