Traditions & Conceptualizations

This group examines the distinctive characteristics of Western perceptions of Middle Eastern literatures, the ways these have been translated into academic structures and cultural institutions and how they formed traditions of intellectual and ideological conceptualization and practice.

For this purpose, the panel makes it its task to assess and historically plot the main theoretical currents that biased, and continue to shape, Western readings of non-Western cultures. From their pre-modern beginnings until its postmodern present, the general directions and ?turning-points? of these traditions should be followed and laid open and, in particular, the processes of their translation into academic practices tracked down.
The survey of current theoretical and methodological approaches to MELs should be carried out against the background of anthropological, linguistic and literary theory in general.
A spotting of the current landscape should further unveil, within the Western scene, the differences between national traditions which result from inner-European historical and cultural diversity. The political involvement of French or British Oriental studies in the colonial project (cf. Edward Said, 1978), e.g., is in marked contrast with the rather aesthetic, ?contemplative? character of early modern German ?armchair Orientalism? (cf. Todd Kontje, 2004). Similarly, the distinctive features, rooted in still other historico-cultural conditions, of Eastern or Southern European approaches to Middle Eastern literatures (and cultures in general) have not yet been studied sufficiently ? despite the striking geographical vicinity and, in the case of the Balkans, a shared Ottoman history.
A major topic of discussion should also be the character of current ME literature studies as arising from their being located and anchored within specific academic structures. In the US, structures that are quite different from their European counterparts lead to other conceptualizations and research aims and form definitely different scholarly traditions. Compared to MEL studies in the US, similar studies in Europe appear, on the one hand, jammed between the ?time-honoured? traditions and structural constraints resulting from their attachment to ?Oriental Studies?, and exploding theoretical requirements on the other.