Creating the Exotic East: Romantic Literature, Orientalist Scholarship, and the Colonial Construction of the East


Martha Smith

Date of Graduation

Summer 2005


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Stephen Beckwitz


Recent post-colonial scholarship has raised questions about particular types of knowledge that were formulated by colonial powers in an effort to understand and control peripheral territories and their populations. This study is an examination of the literature and scholarship of the Romantic period in Britain, from 1780 to 1840, specifically focused on the textural description and creation of the colonial peripheries of the East. I am investigating the connection between two cultural products of the Romantic period, Romantic literature and Orientalist scholarship, and the larger processes of colonialism and modernization in which they emerged, serving simultaneously as active participants in, and resistance to, the larger imperial projects of the period. Particularly, this work is interested in the Romantic and Orientalist presentations of exotic India and Indian religions as tools for formulating the British definitions of self and other, as well as the legacy of these ambivalent presentations in early Religious Studies scholarship. I argue that the mechanisms of imagining the East, whether in poetry or scholarship, were intimately connected to the colonial projects of the Romantic period. While colonialism, romanticism, and Orientalism are separate discourses with very different aims, I propose that they all participated in the larger cultural logic of the Romantic period, one that created the East as an anti-modern space of alterity that could both resist and maintain colonial ideologies and control of peripheral spaces.


romanticism, colonialism, religious studies, Orientalist scholarship, British romantic literature

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© Martha Smith