Modern European sexological and orientalist assimilations of medieval Islamicate ‘ilm al-bah to erotology

A new article in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “Modern European sexological and orientalist assimilations of medieval Islamicate ‘ilm al-bah to erotology” by Alison M. Downham Moore.

This article discusses the term erotology, which was applied to medieval Islamicate ‘ilm al-bah (the science of coitus), as well as other world traditions of sexual knowledge, by European sexologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who contrasted it with their own forms of inquiry into sexual matters in the modern field of sexual science. It argues that the homogenisation and minimisation of all ancient and non-European forms of medical knowledge about sex, even one as substantial as the ‘ilm al-bah tradition, supported a particular story about the origins of sexology’s own emergence as a new and unprecedented biomedical and scientific way of knowing, characterised by an opposition assumed between sexuality and religion, by a view of sexual variations as perversions or pathologies, and by a view of Arabs and Muslims as sexually excessive. The article focusses on French, English, German, Austrian, and Italian sources of the 19th century that discussed the history of sexual medicine, relating these accounts to recent attempts to historicise sexology. It considers how forms of colonial hierarchy and exoticist views of non-European cultures impacted the dismissal of ‘ilm al-bah among European sexual scientists and how they may continue to exert an influence on forms of modern historical inquiry that are not attentive to scholarship on medieval Islamicate sexual medicine.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.