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Introduction: Edward Said, Russian Orientalism and Soviet Iranology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Stephanie Cronin*
Iranian history in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford and an associate of St. Antony's College


In 1978 the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism changed forever the terms of the debate about the nature of western scholarship on the non-western world. Profoundly unsettling, Said's work had a transformational impact on many academic disciplines in western Europe, the Americas and across Asia. Although drawing on older ideas and research, including critiques of western scholarship formulated in the Soviet Union, Said's book, along with Said's own public persona, came to represent and symbolize a broader rejection of existing power-political relationships between the imperial metropoles and the colonial world. In Orientalism, Said was principally concerned with deconstructing a discourse, seeking to analyze the specific character of a particular ideological mission, the elaboration of Anglo-French Orientalism, through which European intellectuals made an essential contribution to the extension of western hegemonic power over the East. Taking case studies drawn from Iran and the wider Persophone region, the question is posed whether a similar intellectual construction may be discerned within nineteenth century Russian, or post-1917 Soviet, discourses on the Orient. Were tsarist Russian scholars and administrators concerned with the Persophone world Orientalists in the Saidian sense? What was the significance of the rupture of 1917 in Russian discourses on the Orient? Did Soviet Iranology continue or break with traditional imperial Orientology? What was the relationship between knowledge of the East and power over it for imperial Russia and in the Soviet Union? Most controversially, did imperial Russian or Soviet Iranology display the same predisposition as Anglo-French discourses to essentialize Orient and Occident, to impose profound ontological oppositions between them and to conclude with the inherent superiority of the latter?

Copyright © The International Society for Iranian Studies 2015

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