Philosophy in the Seraglio: Orientalism and the Enlightenment

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)


Facing Europe along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean and at times reaching into the corners of Europe itself, the Islamic Orient has long been the West’s most enduring Other and its most persistent point of reference for meditation upon the meaning of cultural difference. Relations between Christendom and the Islamic world have often been characterized by mutual hostility, as Muslim control over the Christian holy places outraged devout believers, while Muslim domination of the Iberian and Balkan peninsulas was perceived by some Europeans as a mortal threat to Western Christian civilization. It would, of course, be a gross error to suggest that relations between Christian Europeans and Near Eastern Muslims have always been marked by hostility and warfare; on the contrary, important patterns of cultural interchange and maritime commerce arose in the late medieval and early modern periods, integrating the seafaring Italian republics of Venice and Genoa as well as French Mediterranean ports such as Marseille and Toulon into an emerging world economic system. As a result of these contacts, Near Eastern Muslims were far more familiar to early modern Europeans than were Chinese, Native Americans, Pacific islanders, or other peoples who, as we shall see in the following chapters, offered grist for the mill of Enlightenment theories on the nature of man and the fundamental principles of human society.


Eighteenth Century Islamic World Early Modern Period Oriental Language Religious Intolerance 
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© David Allen Harvey 2012

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