Cultural Encounters, Difference, and Reconstruction of History: Islam and the West

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Juliana Abbenyi

Advisor Department



This study examines the works of five non-western writers whose fiction is primarily concerned with the relationship between Islam and the West, and historical and cultural constructions of Muslim and western identities. The works of Tariq Ali, Assia Djebar, Amin Maalouf, Kanan Makiya, and Orhan Pamuk can be read as a criticism of foundationalist notions of Islam. Their concerns primarily rest on rendering ineffective the ideologically marked discourses of Islamic culture and society. They demonstrate that such discourses can never fully define Islam and never represent it as the knowable other of the West. The power of the narratives I deal with here lies in their cross-cultural and hybrid perspectives articulated from the viewpoint of the displaced, the exiled, and the marginalized. The writers I study draw a map of geographies that emerge in the blurred borders of the West and the Islamic world, and portray the borderline communities of al-Andalus, Algeria, Jerusalem, Istanbul, et cetera, where the hyphen between Arab-Jew, Franco-Arabic, Western-Muslim explodes. While they emphasize the significance of recovering Islamic heritage, they also embrace cross-cultural interaction and synthesis, and appropriate the elements of western thought and literature, synthesizing these with Islamic concepts. A major strategy these writers use to counter essentializing and homogenizing ideas of identity, culture, and history is to reconstruct disrupted histories of the displaced and marginalized. Their histories, in many ways, depart from hegemonic constructs of Eurocentric History. The displaced peoples and communities who live in the borders of the Islamic world and the West prominently figure in their histories. As such, their work speaks to a larger critical discourse that questions Eurocentric History.