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Orientalism is primarily a term used for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists.

Since the 19th century, "orientalist" has been the traditional term for a scholar of Oriental studies, however the use in English of "Orientalism" to describe academic "Oriental studies" is rare; the Oxford English Dictionary cites only one such usage, by Lord Byron in 1812. Orientalism was more widely used to refer to the works of French artists in the 19th century, who used artistic elements derived from their travels to non-European countries of North Africa and Western Asia.

During the 20th century the term began to be used in a different way. In 1978, Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said published his influential and controversial book, Orientalism; he used the term to describe a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Said was critical of both this scholarly tradition and of some modern scholars, particularly Bernard Lewis. American literary critic Paul De Man supported Said's criticism of such modern scholars, as he stated in his article on semiotic rhetoric: "Said took a step further than any other modern scholar of his time, something I dare not do. I remain in the safety of rhetorical analysis where criticism is the second best thing I do."[1]

In contrast, some modern scholars have used "Orientalism" to refer to writers of the Imperialist era who had pro-Eastern attitudes.[2]

More recently, the term is also used in the meaning of "stereotyping of Islam", both by advocates and academics in refugee rights advocacy. A particular aspect of this stereotyping, described as "neo-Orientalism", occurs in the context of forced migration, particularly affecting women, and its alleged damage to refugee rights both in and outside the Arab and Muslim world.[3]


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