Edited By Stephen G. Parker, Rob Freathy and Leslie J. Francis
7 Reading Religious Education Textbooks: Islam, Liberalism and the Limits of Orientalism
This chapter explores the representation of Islam in seventy-two Religious Education textbooks published between 1968 and 2012. The analysis of textbooks reveals that contemporary books are often Orientalist and informed by a liberal desire to present Islam and Muslims positively. The tension between these two trends is located in a critique of Orientalism and liberalism. It is argued that Orientalism itself is an essentialized concept and therefore perpetuates many of the features that characterize contemporary expressions of the unequal relationship between East and West. Further, a liberal interpretation of Islam appears to eradicate most Orientalist markers from textbooks but it serves to impose an interpretation of Islam that is equally as false. The Islam of the media and in the public imagination is not negated by the liberal portrayal of beliefs and in textbooks but reshaped to make it palatable for liberal consumption.
In 1976, the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said redefined the term Orientalism in a book of the same name to refer to the practice amongst western writers and artists of portraying the Orient as something ‘other’ from the western norm (Said, 1991). His argument that western portrayals ← 167 | 168 → of the Orient in either fact or fiction create an Orient that exists only in the western imagination has been one of the most powerful theories in any discussion of the relationship between the West and Islam for the past forty years. This chapter discusses the usefulness of Orientalism...
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