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International Conference: "Veiled Orient ­ Unveiled Occident?

International Conference: "Veiled Orient ­ Unveiled Occident? Stagings
in Politics, Law, Art, and Culture since the 19th Century ",
University of Zurich, 3 - 5 June 2010

When talking about Islam and in particular about Islamism and ŒIslamic
fundamentalism¹, Western societies tend to focus on the imagery of the
veiled woman. ŒThe veiled woman¹ seems to symbolise in a nutshell the
threat to Western values presented by oppression and terror. Even
though today, not only scientific publications, but also the press,
broadcasting and television try to approach the issue in more
differentiated ways, such clichés prove persistent in the debate
regarding the ­ by Western standard ­ alien religion and culture. In
apprehensive arguments, Islam and Islamism are being conflated into
one and the same phenomenon, both seem to embody a threat to
democratic values, or are read to stand for terrorism. Negative
stereotypes of these kinds have been criticised from different angles,
and rightly so: it is inappropriate to equate Islam with Islamism.
When generalising Islam so crudely, distinctions between individual
Islamic countries are being erased. Moreover, Western countries buying
into the mantra of the threat of terror posed by ŒIslamic
fundamentalism¹, might serve the purpose of limiting civil rights and
as sidetracking from a society¹s own crises and problems.

Criticism of such Islamic enemy stereotyping, as often encountered in
Western countries, presents a pressing but complicated issue for
feminist studies and politics alike. It is important to stress the
discrimination of women in Islamic oriented cultures, and to identify
the violations of human rights which often run along gender specific
circumstances and confines. However, Western media frequently resorts
to undifferentiated lines of argument when reporting on Œthe role of
the woman¹ in the Middle East. It might be tempting to oppose the
clichéd imagery of the veiled woman illustrating the oppression in
Muslim countries with the Œfreedom oriented Western society¹; yet,
such images are not suitable to call attention to injustices. On the
contrary, these images rather serve to stabilise these injustices, as
demonstrated lately by acady academics of different disciplines. Also, the
enemy stereotyping of Œthe misogyny of Islam¹ often works as a cover
for antifeminism, political conflicts and social injustices in our own

The conference wishes to approach the topic of ŒThe Veil¹ from a
historic as well as a current socio-political perspective. The
practices and representations of veiling and unveiling in Muslim as
well as Western societies since the 19th century shall be analysed,
thereby identifying the cultural and gender specific codes employed.
One important aspect will be the relationship between modernism and
colonialism. Contributions are welcome on topics like the Western view
of the Œmysterious harem woman¹ in art, film and literature,
representations of veiling/unveiling of truth in religion, philosophy
and ideology, as well as their historic and political semantics.

Furthermore, religious forms of veiling/unveiling in different
societies and cultures and their respective embedding in social and
political situations shall be looked into. Concepts like religious
freedom, transnational feminism, civil rights and human rights can be
discussed. Forms of veiling/unveiling in Western culture could be a
topic as well: for example the elegant city lady or the diva in art,
fashion, culture and film. Deconstructions of Western clichés of the
veiled woman in Islam, as presented in the works on violence and
migration of contemporary artists, will be looked into as well. Last
but not least, one can analyse how the image of the veiled Muslim
woman is used in Western media. The conference will explore the
question of how veiling and unveiling in Europe and the nations of the
Islamic world is being politically and juridically regulated.

Paper proposals should include title of the paper, name, affiliation,
short CV, email and a 500 word abstract. Proposals must be submitted
by November 30, 2009 to: Publication of
selected papers is envisaged

Organiser: Gender Studies, Universität Zürich,

Conference conveners: Prof. Dr. Bettina Dennerlein, Dr. Elke Frietsch,
Prof. Dr. Therese Steffen

Contact: Dr. Elke Frietsch,, Tel:

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