A Hamster on a Wheel

 

Hello readers!

After nearly three weeks of reading, researching, and much needed relaxing, I finally feel comfortable blogging about the work that I have been doing for my summer Monroe Project. I arrived at W&M early this July with a set topic to research: I was going to examine the social and cultural divisions between Europe and the Middle East during the late Middle Ages in order to see their impact on modern perceptions of the Middle East by the West. As you probably thought while reading this (and as I very quickly came to find out) this is an extremely broad topic, and one that I could not hope to fully understand even after a year of research!

Over the past week and a half, I read books, articles, treatises, even political cartoons, all trying to depict the multifaceted relationships between Europeans and Middle Easterners in hopes of narrowing down my topic of study to a more manageable field of view. Nevertheless, I found myself feeling much like a hamster on a wheel. I had been working very hard to reach an end that is ultimately unattainable for my little hamster legs to reach. For as much as I had read, and happily learned, about Orientalism, western views of Islam, and postcolonial studies of Islamic societies, I was still stuck at square one. What would my final product be?

As it turns out, I had the answer to my question saved neatly away on my desktop; the file was labeled “Monroe Project Proposal.” It’s funny how many times you find that answers to your questions literally in front of your face (when you minimize Facebook, that is). As I mentioned in my Abstract, I pursued a research project this summer after taking a class on Dante’s Commedia, wherein we examined the work within the context of Orientalism. Orientalist scholars examine the way that Western society, authors, artists, etc. portray or imitate Eastern culture and society through art (novels, paintings, sculpture, etc.) In my proposal, I had asserted my interest in examining the portrayal of Islamic and Arab characters within Commedia with the hopes of improving my understanding of European attitudes towards Middle Eastern culture. With this renewed frame of reference, I was prepared to pare down my research into something that I could control.

I have taken this past week to evaluate my progress and, ultimately, choose one final ‘thesis’ to research further. While I had planned on limit the scope of my research to examine the Orientalism inherent in Dante’s Commedia (a much more narrowed topic of analysis) I found myself stuck again as I can not substantively prove that Dante was knowledgable or educated on Islamic eschatology*. If I cannot say for certain that Dante was privy to the Islamic perception of Heaven (as described in the hadith of Muhammad), then I find myself uncomfortable trying to write a paper that examines how his Commedia is an orientalist representation of this Islamic belief. Therefore, I have resolved to use my studies of Dante’s work as a case study, a platform if you will, to show how perception of the differences in Christian and Islamic religions during Dante’s time (late Medieval/early Renaissance period) furthered the cultural division of the West and the Middle East. This revised purview of research, I will, hopefully be able to move a lot deeper into this dense field of study.

Again, thank you for reading through my entry, and please leave any comments or thoughts below!

 

*Eschatology, in a nutshell, is the study of what happens to humanity when we all die. It usually involves elements of religions mysticism in its discussions of how humans believe worldly reality will transition (if at all) into divine reality.