The Discourse of Occidental Studies: A Perspective from Malaysia is the text of the Syarahan Umum Bangi that was presented on 27 March 2013 by Shanta Nair-Venugopal at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. More recently, Occidentalism has complemented discussions on Orientalism as an emerging field of intellectual discourse with contrasts being drawn invariably between Orientalism and Occidentalism. However, a distinction needs to be drawn between Occidentalism and Occidental Studies as a field of academic discourse. Towards that end, this lecture is structured around five mutually dependent questions that have arisen from what is posited as the global conversation on both Occidentalism and Occidental Studies.
Like any conversation, the one on Occidentalism is not completely under the control of either one of its partners, referred to here by their shorthand terms, East and West, but is determined by the discourse itself. The first of these questions attend to how discourse is to be understood in the context of Occidental Studies and the second to what constitutes Occidental Studies. This is followed by the third on whether, or not, Occidental Studies, is, in fact, predicated on Occidentalism. The fourth and penultimate question gets to the heart of the matter by asking what constitutes the discourse of Occidental Studies.
The last examines how Malaysia can contribute to this discourse in relation to the role IKON can play as a Malaysian centre for Occidental Studies that can contribute to the global conversation. Hermeneutics has been incorporated as a general theory of human understanding to understand the discourse of Occidental Studies because it helps to explain human understanding as a dialogic relationship that is embedded within the historical traditions of human thought. The discourse itself can be understood as the global conversation about the role, power, influence, ideologies, practices and identities of Europe and America, and their associates as the West, which are revealed within the peculiarities of the narratives of history, both old and new.
It is significant that the conversation is taking place at a time when Asia is resurfacing prominently on the global horizon and three issues have emerged on the horizon. They are the idea of a post-Western Europe, cosmopolitanism, and intercultural and inter-civilizational dialogue. While the idea of a post-Western Europe hinges on the rationalization of the rise of Asia, cosmopolitanism stands for the potentiality of human engagement for the common good of all, with intercultural or inter-civilizational dialogue as the premise of such an engagement.
The most seductive idea is that of a post western Europe with the prospect of Asia, particularly East Asia, overtaking the West because it appears to take the edge out of the impetus for Occidental Studies. However, the true appeal of Occidental Studies must lie in studying the West, as it is, in all its representations and by providing a countervailing stance to the multivalent gaze that the East has received since antiquity. More recently, fuelled by the ascendancy of China as a world power, the tianxia system, from the world of classical Chinese philosophy, has been promoted as an alternative to Kantian cosmopolitanism that can influence international relations.
Other Asian options are also available as cosmopolitanisms of global consciousness. Nonetheless, it is in the mutuality of the gaze between East and West on the horizon of a more equitable distribution of global political and economic power that EastWest relations can improve, and Occidental Studies develop and flourish autonomously as a field of academic discourse.