The name “Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies” will replace “Faculty of Oriental Studies”, Prof David Rechter, the Faculty’s chair, announced on Thursday morning. The proposed name change will now be recommended to the Humanities Division and the University’s Council.
The decision comes after eighteen months of discussion and debate among students and faculty, according to Professor Rechter’s statement. The process will now occur at the university’s administrative level, which may take months before a finalised decision is made.
Opened in 1960, the Oriental Institute building has long housed the Oriental Studies faculty at Oxford, which includes the bachelors-level Oriental Studies degree and a range of masters and doctoral programs focusing on the cultures, histories, religions, and languages of Asia.
Today, the Faculty is housed across multiple sites, including the Griffith Institute, the Middle East Centre, the Nissan Institute, the Khalili Research Centre, the China Centre, the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Centre, and the Nizami Ganjavi Centre. It offers instruction in twenty-five languages.
The term “Oriental” to describe the “Eastern” world has been the subject of controversy in academia and beyond. Drawing on Edward Said’s seminal 1978 text Orientalism, critics allege that the word evokes stereotypes and caricatures of Asian people, and has a legacy rooted in colonialism. The first permanent post in Sanskrit studies at Oxford was established in the 19th century by Colonel Joseph Boden of the East India Company, as Britain embarked on a colonial campaign in the Indian subcontinent.
The Oriental Studies Faculty acknowledges its origins, and strives toward a “rejection of colonial and Euro-centric ideologies”.
The University of Cambridge changed the name of its Faculty of Oriental Studies to the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in 2007. The University of Chicago, the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and some others maintain the controversial “Oriental” name.
The Oriental Studies Faculty and Humanities Division’s communications teams have been approached for comment.
Image: Kyle Bushnell