Ivan Davidson Kalmar


For centuries in the West, Jews and Muslims were imagined together; usually - as in this picture taken from a ceiling in the Vatican Museum - as the common enemy, but often also in romantic, idealizing ways. Much of my recent work is about the history of this joint Jewish-Muslim imago. To think of Jew and Muslim as two of a kind was a silly idea. Not as silly and a lot less dangerous than figuring them to be opposites who can never meet.

Early Orientalism: Imagined Islam and the Notion of Sublime Power

How do we imagine and experience the power that rules our destinies? As a loving Father in heaven? Or as a cruel, uncaring Master? In the western world, this ultimate question about the human condition has been rehearsed through fantasies about the Muslim Orient.

Muslims praying

This painting by Léon Gérôme comments on Islam as the faith of sincere submission to a sublime caretaker. More often perhaps in the West, the worlds of Islam have been imagined in subjection to cold, blood-thirsty despots: rulers wielding unlimited power on earth, and in heaven an Allah resembling the worst aspects of Christianity's image of the vengeful "Old Testament God." This complex and contradictory image of Islam is the focus of my book, Early Orientalism: Imagined Islam and the Notion of Sublime Power (London and New York: Routledge, 2012). Read an excerpt