Orientalism and Imperialism: Protestant Missionary Narratives of the 'Other' in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Kurdistan.
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Intent to publish modified version of thesis as book.
Through an examination of the letters, reports and published writings of the missionaries of two distinctive Protestant missions active in the Kurdish region during the nineteenth century, this thesis explores the Orientalist and imperialist qualities of missionary knowledge production. It demonstrates the diversity of Protestant missionary thought on the subject of the Orient and the individual nature of missionary knowledge production during this period. Equally importantly the study allows for a critical examination of the Orientalist critique in the context of missionary activity and a contextualised assessment of missionary complicity with imperialism. The findings of the study show that the Orientalism of the Anglican ‘Assyrian Mission’ and that of the American Presbyterian ‘West Persia Mission’ share common characteristics but, importantly, diverge diametrically in the meanings ascribed to the differences perceived to separate ‘Oriental’ from ‘Occidental’. This diversity in the representative style of the two missions can be linked to their opposed objectives in relation to proselytisation and thus suggests that their knowledge production was not solely determined by Orientalist discourse but also influenced by other discursive factors. Given Edward Said’s recognition of the diversity of the phenomenon of Orientalism it is therefore of great value to attempt to map some of this vast and divergent terrain of ideas. My thesis thus suggests that a meaningful division can be made within the Orientalist discourse between expressions of an Orientalism of essential difference and that of an Orientalism of circumstantial difference. Concerning imperialism, the study argues that, although these missionaries can be considered imperialists in an unwitting and indirect sense, care needs to be taken in the application of this label. My argument is that association with and contribution to textual attitudes which promote ideas of ontological or cultural superiority are a very different activity to conscious engagement in projects of imperial expansion; and that this needs to be recognised. Furthermore the standard model of a political metropolitan center determining the fate of its activities in the periphery is reversed in the case of these missionaries, where religious concerns drove engagement against political interests.
Centre for Kurdish Studies
PhD in Kurdish Studies