Theorizing the Field

The most significant developments in Islamophobia research are evident in cross-disciplinary definitions and conceptualizations of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. In an attempt to describe the phenomenon of Islamophobia, a wide range of researchers have critiqued the social construction, othering, and racialization of Muslim identities in the US. These bodies of work include historical contextualization of Islamophobia and intellectual engagements in diverse fields of theoretical analyses, such as racialization/racism, Orientalism and de-colonial, anti-imperial, and deconstructionist frameworks. In doing so, these works highlight how Islamophobia operates within both historical and current global processes of colonialism and imperialism. In addition, recent efforts provide a range of descriptions, definitions, and measures of how Islamophobia operates and manifests in the US.


Frequently cited

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York, NY: Vintage Books (1978).

Edward Said (1935-2003) was among the most widely known intellectuals in the world and one of the forefathers of the field of post-colonial studies. He was best known for his book Orientalism, considered one of the foundational texts for the study of Islamophobia. Orientalism describes the way Western cultural, academic, and imperial projects have crafted a dehumanizing representation of “the Arab” as an exotic and barbarous Orient. By decoding the body of writing that compares a "civilized" West to a "backwards" Arab world, Orientalism provides one of the earliest critiques of stigmatized Muslim identities and the way in which Orientalists exploited the negative stereotypes of Eastern cultures as a justification for colonial ambitions.

The book is organized in three parts, beginning with “the scope of Orientalism,” whereby Said surveys the development of the field of Oriental Studies, and focuses on how Muslim Arabs came to be perceived as “the Orient” by the West. The book then interrogates the “orientalist structures and restructures” through which Orientalism was systemized and disseminated as a form of “specialized knowledge.” The final section, “Orientalism Now,” highlights the way in which nineteenth century Orientalist works inspired the twentieth century body of knowledge that further stigmatized the Muslim and Arab world. Overall, Said critically exposes how Western studies of Islamic civilization has consistently served as cultural discrimination and used as a justification of empire. He asserts that since at least the period of European colonialism in the seventeenth century, the Orient has been seen as an other, who is cast as irrational, psychologically weak, and in need of salvation.

Based on these critiques, this book is considered one of the most significant texts in the study of East-West relations. Thus, it is a foundational text for theorists and scholars interested in Islamophobia studies and has inspired much of the later works cited and listed in this reading resource pack.

Critical Insight

Ernst, Carl W. Islamophobia in America : The Anatomy of Intolerance. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, (2013)

Professor Carl Ernst in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the editor of this collection of five critical essays which deconstruct the concept of Islamophobia from a range of standpoints. This includes informative, contextual chapters, as well as empirical commentaries and case studies. Ernst’s introductory chapter provides a valuable critique of the complex, intricate nature of Islamophobia. Namely, he emphasizes that anti-Muslim prejudice is constructed by a range of media outlets and political institutions. Thus, this book highlights the need to approach the subject of Islamophobia from a variety of angles, reflected in the diversity of the essays. In the first chapter, Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg trace the history of British and American views towards Muslims between 1687 and 1947. The second chapter by Kambiz Ghanea Bassiri contextualizes the exclusion of Muslim Americans within a wider intolerance towards minority groups such as Jews, Black Americans, and Catholics in the US. In the third chapter, Edward Curtis draws connections between anti-Muslim sentiment in the US with twentieth century racism against African American Muslims, which he argues has shifted towards brown foreigners in the post-9/11 era. Julianna Hammer brings readers’ attention to the gendered components of Islamophobia, particularly the experiences of victimization among Muslim women from members of the public and the media. Most importantly, this chapter sheds light on the global and interconnected nature of media stereotypes of oppressed Muslim women in Islamophobic discourses. Finally, Andrew Shyrock contextualizes the long history of Islamophobia in Western societies and wider hostile beliefs around nationalism, citizenship, and a rejection of minority identities. Collectively, the chapters in this book provide an insightful and diverse source of information on the intensifying nature of Islamophobia in the US.  

Recent perspectives

Garner, Steve, and Saher Selod. "The racialization of Muslims: empirical studies of Islamophobia." Critical Sociology 41, no. 1 (2015): 9-19.

Steve Garner, head of Criminology and Sociology at Birmingham City University, and Saher Selod, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Simmons College (USA), provide an overview of the 2015 Special Issue on “Islamophobia and the Racialization of Muslims” published in Critical Sociology. Drawing on their combined expertise in social and racial theory, they frame racialization as a useful theoretical concept for explaining and understanding anti-Muslim sentiment in the US. Namely, they draw on the range of scholarly works that explore Islamophobia as a form of racism towards Muslim populations in the US and Europe. This opening article highlights the lack of academic engagement with racialization when discussing Islamophobia, and the equally weak presence of fieldwork-based studies with Muslim subjects. Garner and Selod therefore draw connections between racism, racialization, and Islamophobia to highlight the utility of racialization in understanding Islamophobia. They do so by theorizing the core elements of racism, discussing the limits of exploring Islamophobia without a racial lens, and providing a historical overview of racialization. The article therefore reveals how Muslims are racialized through religious/physical signifiers in the US and advocates the re-thinking of race and “fluid racisms” that change in form across time and place. This article and the larger Special Issue in Critical Sociology provide important perspectives for those interested in theorizing Islamophobia, particularly as a form of racism in the US.

Reading List