IASH Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series

Cultures and Values

Phil Almond

Western Imaginings of Islam, 1700 to the Present

Since its origins in the seventh century CE, Islam has been for the West often threatening, sometimes enchanting, but ever present. Since then, the self-image of the West has been constructed on a foundation in which Islam was essentially other. Islam has always been an imaginary canvas upon which the West has painted its own virtues and values. Yet in keeping with the West’s modern difficulties in defining its own values, its once unified image of Islam has also become fractured, uncertain and ambiguous. This paper argues that the origins of our contemporary intellectual malaise about the nature of Islam lie in the new images of Islam that arose in the West during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries alongside the traditional ones. The Muhammad of history began to engage with the Muhammad of Christian legend, the Western fascination with an exotic Orient co-existed with the image of a decadent and corrupt East. Such conflicting images of Islam will continue while the notion of a unitary ‘Islam’, along with the notion of the ‘West’ over against it, remains a central feature of our classification of cultures. 

Philip Almond is Emeritus Professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. His recent books include Afterlife: A History of Life After Death (IB Tauris and Cornell University Press, 2016), Jenseits: Eine Geschichte des Lebens nach dem Tode (Darmstadt: Lambert Schneider Verlag, 2017) and The Devil: A New Biography (IB Tauris & Cornell University Press, 2014). His new book God: A New Biography (London: IB Tauris) will be published in April 2018.



Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower (Building #1