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Call for Participation: Typologies of Western Islam in European Encyclopaedias, Dictionaries and Lexicons in the 18th and 19th Centuries

This international conference on the “Typologies of Western Islam in European Encyclopaedias, Dictionaries and Lexicons in the 18th and 19th Centuries”, is a continuation of the conference on “Islamic Resonances in the West”, organized at the University of La Réunion by Bénédicte Letellier and Guilhem Armand in March 2022.

The conference will revisit the encyclopaedias, dictionaries and lexicons produced in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in order to question the foundational and synergistic links between language and thought that create cultural identities. Since the 1970s, it has become clear that this corpus is not only reference works intended to synthesize classify and build up knowledge by dealing with the information and realities of the world (DUBOIS: 1971). But their educational intent is also manifested in their propensity to orient a gaze and to define a common vision of identities (COLOMBANI: 1997). Thus, this conference will explore the conceptual and methodological modalities adopted in these scholarly books to describe Islam according to types determined by the choice of certain criteria and symbols. A set of representations, mental perceptions, most often unconscious and collective, govern the definitions and entries. The information that abounds there constitutes a discourse in its own right, with its own specificities and strategies (GLATIGNY: 2003). Islam was perceived as a geopolitical space (Ottoman Empire), but also as a cultural and religious space (Muslim world). They thus retain the traces of a collective imagination that has produced these interwoven representations.

This reflection on the typologies of Western Islam will feature different points of view:

1. The authors: What is the social situation of the authors? What are their ideological and political affiliations, their methodologies, their sources, their expertise in Eastern languages? The aim here is to take a contextual and historical approach to clarify certain concerns or obsessions about the foreignness of Islam that have subsequently become enthusiastic clichés.

  1. Articles/entries: text style, format, genre, borrowings, references. The study of these texts may be literary (narration, description, characters, caricatures, chronicles, etc.) or lexicographical (principles of classification of entries, transcription, lexicological equivalences, invention of concepts, etc.). To what extent does the style of these articles express a way of being and thinking, more typical of oneself than of the other? Particular attention can be paid to the typology of Islam or the Muslim, including the construction of physical, social, anthropological or cultural stereotypes.
  2. Reception: to whom were these texts addressed (politicians, religious men, lay readers under the influence of the Church, neophyte public)? How were they received? What are the socio-psychological factors that have conveyed some understanding? Was there a work of rewriting, appropriation, alteration? These typologies were born in a cultural history of ideas governed by the political and military contexts that shook Europe at the time (the search for markets in the East, rivalry with the British).
  3. Science: Which areas of classical Muslim culture have paid more attention to these authors? Which areas have been ignored or neglected? What are the recurring objects of study in these corpora that have prevented us from seeing other dimensions of Islam? How can we explain the focus on the theme of violence in the Koran? on the life of the prophet, the sira? or on certain particularities of Islamic law? What are the reasons for such interest? Are the underlying typologies of these dictionaries and encyclopaedias part of the history of science, respecting the evolution of the principles governing knowledge, its organisation, conception and dissemination? What is the role of these corpora in the construction of Western knowledge about Islam?
  4. Literature: What is the role of fiction in relation to these reference works? What legitimacy does it give to these so-called ‘learned’ representations? How has it validated these typologies while creating a cultural and political identity norm in relation to them? How have these typologies of Muslim otherness shaped the models and fictions necessary for self-construction?
  5. Contemporary interpretation: Can we judge the errors, exaggerations, prejudices, amplifications, limitations, manipulations, silences of these corpora? Should they be studied as a response to historical elements inherent to Europe at the time? How have these typologies determined stereotypes that are still present in contemporary relations between the West and the Muslim world? What is the strength of these typologies that, four centuries later and despite numerous scientific studies, prevent a real dialogue?

Methodological indications:

Corpus: Particular attention will be paid to proposals that examine dictionaries, encyclopedias and lexicons published in Europe that have dealt with themes relating to Islam and Orientalism. Here are a few indicative examples: the Dictionary of P. Bayle (1696), the Encyclopedia or Dictionary reasoned of sciences, arts and trades (1751-1772) under the direction of D. Diderot and, partially, of J Le Rond d’Alembert, the Littré Dictionary (1873- 1877), the Encyclopedia of Islam, Dictionary of the French Academy, the Encyclopedia Britannica, An universal, historical, geographical, chronological and poetical dictionary (1703) , the Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon aller Wissenschafften und Künste published by Johann Heinrich Zedler (1731-1754), the Nuovo dizionario scientifico e curioso, sacroprofano published by Gianfrancesco Pivati (1746–1751), etc.

Historical framework: It is desirable to focus on the 18th and 19th centuries, marked by the emergence of colonialism, Enlightenment philosophy, exoticism and Orientalism. Proposals that study the constants of these bodies of work in the 20th and 21st centuries, which are marked by new issues such as independence, the birth of Arab states and the decline of Orientalism following the emergence of the humanities and of Islamology, will also be welcome.

Exposure: An exhibition of old books will be organized at the Library of Letters which will illustrate the rise of Orientalism through the works of European lexicologists, philologists and thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries.

How to apply

To apply to the conference, please submit a 500-word abstract and 1-page CV tonejmeddine.khalfallah@univ-lorraine.frbenedicte.letellier@univ-reunion.fr


Proposals submission: October 15, 2022 Notification to authors: October 31, 2022 Conference date: March 16-17, 2023 Article submission: April 15, 2023.

Registration fees

30 euros to be paid on site. Lunches and coffee breaks will be offered by the University of Lorraine. Transport and accommodation remain the responsibility of the participants.

Steering committee

Nejmeddine K HALFALLAH (Université de Lorraine, France) Bénédicte LETELLIER (Université de la Réunion, France) Fouad M LIH (Université de Lorraine, France).

Scientific committee

Bénédicte LETELLIER (Université de la Réunion, France) Fadi J ABER (Université de Lorraine) Fouad M LIH (Université de Lorraine) Laurence D ENOOZ (Université de Lorraine, France) Nejmeddine K HALFALLAH (Université de Lorraine, France) Rima LABBAN, (Université de Montpellier) Pascale P ELLERIN (CNRS. IHRIM) Guilhem A RMAND (Université de la Réunion, France) Ziad ELMARSAFY (King’s College, Angleterre)

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