How can we explain the different patterns of globalization in antisemitism and Islamophobia?

Torkel Brekke will hold the next webinar in the INTERSECT-project

This talk starts with a question that has received too little attention. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are both global in the sense that we can observe them in many different places, but Islamophobia has a more global appeal and reach than antisemitism. The talk proceeds in the following way.

Firstly, I discuss the tendency for comparative research to foreground similarities between antisemitism and Islamophobia. An important reason for this focus is the idea that in modern times ethnic and religious groups undergo processes of racialization. This means that there are cultural and economic forces at work in the modern world that make it plausible and convenient for majority populations to see minorities as races. This perspective has been widely applied to understand both antisemitism and Islamophobia in their own rights and to look for similarities between the two. I believe that this racialization perspective has given too much attention to similarities where we should be more interested in differences. I am interested in the attributes of the two that facilitate their spread across national and cultural boundaries.

Secondly, I introduce the theory of cultural models as a potential perspective to help us better understand these differences. This is an approach to culture developed by scholars concerned with finding the right methodological tools to study beliefs that underpin human action. Cultural models consist of interconnected cultural schemas. A focus on cultural schemas and models makes us aware of the cognitive aspects – the belief parts – of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Cultural models can be found in the minds of persons and may be accessed with methods such as interviews and ethnography, but they are also manifested in public cultural expressions, like art and literature. I am looking at antisemitism and Islamophobia as cultural models that appear similar but are made up of more basic cultural schemas that are fundamentally different. 

Thirdly, I argue that antisemitism and Islamophobia globalize in different ways because antisemitism – properly defined – is a cultural model that cannot be separated from its Christian origins. It is well known that modern times saw the emergence of what is normally called “scientific antisemitism”, which sees Jews as a race in line with scientific racism in general. However, even when the language of God, Christ, and blood libel are taken out of antisemitism, the theological, or more precisely the eschatological, elements in antisemitism remain. Christian eschatological ideas are at the core of antisemitism in a strict sense - this is not the case for Islamophobia.  

Fourthly, I suggest that the comparison of Islamophobia to antisemitism as cultural models makes it easier to understand an important aspect of the globalization of Islamophobia in our time. Islamophobia is not one thing but many. Islamophobias have emerged in a number of very different cultures over centuries. The question we are researching when we study Islamophobia as a global phenomenon is not primarily how Islamophobic themes spread from one place to another, although this can obviously happen. The more important question is rather how Islamophobias that have emerged as cultural models in different national contexts get into contact, how they overlap and how they converge. The globalization of antisemitism is the spread of one relatively coherent cultural model from one place, i.e. Christian Europe. The globalization of Islamophobia is the global convergence of different Islamophobias. This calls for research methods in the study of Islamophobia that pay attention both to the concepts and beliefs that become global and those that by their nature do not travel but stay local. 


If you would like to participate in the webinar on the day, here is the Zoom link to join:
Passcode: 692367


Published Aug. 21, 2020 3:48 PM - Last modified Aug. 21, 2020 3:48 PM