- Research //
Images of Self and Other and Symbolic Boundaries: Europe and Muslim Societies
Since the mid-twentieth century, most western European states have experienced an increase in population from Muslim-majority societies. At the same time, the latter have had to face diverse political and military interference on the part of European countries. Traditional images on both sides are informed by historical memories of encounters and entanglement as well as violence, oscillating between ambivalence and demarcation. Today, judgemental and emotionally charged images of the respective other remain challenged by geographical and everyday proximity before a backdrop of global mobility and information. These contemporary conditions give rise to conflicts of recognition that generate new complex and subtle patterns of differentiation. Such symbolic boundaries are often formed by polarising categories such as the modern versus the traditional, or the religious versus the secular, which determine aspects of ‘belonging’ and lend recognition accordingly.
Current shifts within the framework of this relationship raise the question as to how far traditional reflections and demarcations of symbolic boundaries in conceptions of orientalism and occidentalism have now become antiquated, and whether and how they are being replaced by new, non-polarised patterns of perception. For a research area focusing on Europe and Muslim-majority societies, this means that the epistemological interest of research and transfer activities must concentrate on examining and revising changes to cultural polarisations, shifts, and the permeability of boundaries within the setting of the school as well as in educational media.
The research area’s projects aim to scrutinise current diagnoses of mutual demarcation tendencies between Europe and Muslim-majority societies, as well as concerning Muslims living in Europe. We are currently working with three points of focus:
• Historical scholarship discusses narrative structures which have essentially remained stable over longer periods of time. The project ‘The Longue Durée of European Islam Narratives’ traces their emergence. It examines the extent to which images currently being produced refer back to images of self and other that have long since become ‘institutionalised’.
• Initial investigations into various national contexts were made in the (now completed) project about educational reform, curricula and textbooks in Arabic-speaking MENA countries and in the ongoing project ‘The Crusades Myth’. This research strand is now being further developed in a project about the trend towards the internationalisation and assimilation of knowledge and education in Yemenite textbooks. This topic is also being subject to further investigation in a six-month pilot study about patterns of the cultural interpretation of human rights in civic education textbooks in European and Arab countries. The results of this initial study about human rights in Germany, France, Tunisia and Syria form a basis for future research. A second pilot study dealing with current representations of Islam and Muslims in textbooks in European countries was carried out in the second half of 2010, and explored the generalised perceptions of Islam and Muslims in German, Austrian, French, Spanish and English history textbooks and political science textbooks. This project identified and explained characteristic patterns underlying Eurocentric representations of Islam and the identification of Muslims as religious and premodern 'others'.
• The transfer project ‘1001 Ideas’ renders new knowledge on Islamic countries and Muslims in Europe accessible for use in the classroom. To a large extent, the current Islam narrative in textbooks written in the German language reflects European perceptions of Islam from past centuries, in which Islam is seen as a source of backwardness and violence. With a view to destabilising these unilateral patterns of perception, this project has rendered web-based material in the German language available to teachers since 2005 (www.1001-idee.eu). The project is thus well positioned within contemporary discourse addressing history and histories between Europe and the Orient as well as between Christianity and Islam. Key aspects include investigating categories of self and other and how cultural transfer is portrayed or ignored.
Further research and transfer projects are planned or are currently being evaluated. These will investigate and compare the emergence and development of symbolic borders. The following research questions are central to this project: How stable and versatile are the images of the self and the other? What is the mutual relationship between cultural interpretations of the self and the other, and what symbolic borders are used to define them in relation to one another? How, when determining identity, are cultural diversity and homogeneity dealt with in descriptions of the self as opposed to the definition of borders marking the separation between the self and others? What opportunities do educational media offer to promote more open and porous cross-border representations?
The following diagram outlines the location of the individual projects within this research area along the coordinates of contemporary research, historical research, transfer and networking.
On 1 February 2012 the research area 'Images' merged with the research area 'Globalisation'.
Last Change: 09.06.2012