Orientalism Questions and Answers
by Edward W. Said

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What does Edward Said mean by "academic and imaginative demonology" in the following quotation from Orientalism: " So far as the Orient is concerned, standardization and cultural stereotyping have intensified the hold of the nineteenth-century academic and imaginative demonology of ‘the mysterious Orient.’" Thank you.

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Edward Said’s 1978 Orientalism is a scholarly text on the West’s demeaning representations of the “Orient”—the cultures and peoples of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. These representations do not exist in a vacuum: they are the product of Western societies which undertake Orientalist scholarship in order to further their imperialist agendas.

So far as the Orient is concerned, standardization and cultural stereotyping have intensified the hold of the nineteenth-century academic and imaginative demonology of “the mysterious Orient."

In the passage quoted above, "academic and imaginative demonology" refers to the majority of knowledge systems from the nineteenth century that contributed to the demonization and exoticism of the East and its cultures—especially the Arab world. Western Orientalist scholars at the time (most of whom were French or British) were known for their unfair depictions of Islamic culture. These depictions were usually laden with excessive sex, violence, and other such salacious enterprises that the West considered to be forms of Oriental perversity or debauchery.

Similarly, Said points out how contemporary area studies programs and institutes in Western universities hold highly politicized, harsh views on Arabs and Islam. These views are in part due to their liberal sensibilities and skewed sympathy toward Israeli Zionism. There is a perceived dichotomy of the freedom-loving, democratic Israelite and the evil, totalitarian, and terroristic Arab—influenced in part, no doubt, by oil economics between the United States and the Middle East. These unfair perceptions are not restricted to scholarly circles; they have trickled down to television, films, and other media resources. The "academic and imaginative demonology" of the nineteenth century, therefore, continues to create and define “the mysterious Orient."

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