University of Oxford department drops 'potentially offensive' word from its name

·3-min read
Oxford University. Picture Ed Nix
Oxford University. Picture Ed Nix

An Oxford department has dropped the word oriental from its name because it is seen as outdated and potentially offensive.

The former Faculty of Oriental Studies is now 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, the Cherwell website reported.

Professor David Rechter, chairman of the faculty board, said 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.

Prof 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 Lane which houses the Faculty, will be renamed as well. Its new name has not been announced.

Oxford Mail:
Oxford Mail:

Professor Rechter said: “The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies was selected after an extensive consultation process and I would like to thank the many staff and students who took part in surveys and gave their views.

“I am confident this change is the right decision. Many considered the word ‘oriental’ to be inappropriate and, while the change will not affect what the faculty researches and teaches, it does better reflect the breadth and diversity of academic activity.”

The faculty’s history dates back to the 16th century, when the first professorship in Hebrew was created, and that it had previously been linked to colonialism and the British Empire.

In the mid-19th century, the need for speakers of south and east Asian languages became more important because of the expansion of British imperialism and trade, leading to the creation of posts in Sanskrit, Chinese, Persian, Burmese and other Asian languages.

The announcement from Oxford was welcomed on social media, with some saying they were surprised that it had used its former name until now.

But there was criticism that Oxford University still offered a course called oriental studies.

The university’s website says: “Oriental Studies is unique in its sole focus on introducing students to civilisations that are different from the Western ones upon which the curriculum in most British schools and colleges is based. All courses include a combination of linguistic, literary, historic and cultural studies and there is a wide range of options in fields such as art and archaeology, history, literature, philosophy, religion and modern social studies. Oriental Studies has a long history in Oxford.”

The faculty’s website says: “We offer a fascinating array of undergraduate courses, giving students the opportunity to learn Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese or Persian, in the context of a broad-based degree in Middle Eastern or East Asian studies.”



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