Embracing Islam: Okakura Tenshin at the Limits of His Alternative Orientalism
This paper scrutinizes the entangled encounters between the early twentieth-century Japanese cultural theorist Okakura Kakuzō 岡倉覚三 (1863–1913), Euro-American Orientalist cultural norms, and Islam. It argues that Okakura overlooked Islam as a dominant religion in Asia. While Okakura questioned the existential justification of Japanese visual culture and its ambiguous position between East and West at the turn of the twentieth century, he viewed Islam through a Christian ideological lens and positioned it in binary opposition to polytheistic beliefs in Asia, chiefly Buddhism. Okakura’s failure to embrace Islam as a religion of Asia was therefore due to the fact that Islam emerged in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as part of the universal category of "world religions," and was not properly understood as an indigenous tradition of the non-Western world alongside Buddhism and Hinduism.
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