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Oriental Studies Faculty to change name

Maggie Wilcox reports.

The former Faculty of Oriental Studies has changed its name to the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. 

The change comes after demands for a more culturally sensitive name and concludes two years of faculty and student consultation on the issue, as well a review process from the Humanities Division and the University Council.

Professor David Rechter, Faculty Board Chair, wrote in a press release last month that the term ‘oriental’ was viewed as inappropriate by many. The term is tied to negative stereotypes and portrayals of Asian people, often through a colonialist lens. Rechter said that name change would better reflect the faculty’s ‘diversity of academic activity’ and is the ‘right decision’. The Oriental Institute on Pusey Street, which houses the Faculty, will be renamed as well. 

The Faculty’s history dates back to the sixteenth century, when the first professorship in Hebrew was created. Throughout much of its existence it was heavily tied to colonialism and the British Empire, growing in size in the mid nineteenth century when interest and a need for speakers of South and East Asian languages became more important due to the expansion of British imperialism and trade. During this era, posts in Sanskrit, Chinese, Persian, Burmese and in various other Asian languages were created. Following the end of the colonial era, the Oriental Institute opened in 1961. Over the next fifty years expanded to other buildings across Oxford including the Griffith Institute, the Nissan Institute at St Anthony’s and the China Centre at St Hugh’s. 

The name change also echoes the Faculty’s contemporary vision as stated in the introductory page on their website. The Faculty denounces the study of Asia and the Middle East as ‘exotic’ or marginal to the modern world. Rather, they hope to explore, examine and teach about these important cultures that are ‘at the heart of the modern globalised world’. Prof Retcher celebrated the breadth of the current Faculty’s research in his statement and pointed out that the name change will not change the Faculty’s teaching or research.

The Faculty currently offers instruction in twenty-five languages to and grants degrees related to Asian and Middle Eastern history and culture.

Image credit: Kyle Bushnell

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