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Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies


A Nahḍa of Sexology. The Study of Sex and Reproduction in Arab modernist thought 1900–1940

(PhD project)

Arabic sexual science in the first decades of the 20th century constituted a discursive field structured around questions related to what 'natural sexuality' and the 'natural laws of sexuality and marriage' are. In addressing these questions, sexologists brought together a broad range of concerns of their time: reproductive health and population growth, gender relations, the 'marriage crisis,' prostituion, but also the question of what constitutes modern science, as opposed to other fields and traditons of knowledge, questions about progress and civilization, narratives of civilizational rise and decline, about the state of Arab societies.

The diagnosis of a close entanglement of the discourse on sexuality and love on the one hand and the preoccupation with civilization and progress on the other is at the core of my study of Arabic sexual science. Pursuing a discourse analytical approach, I analyze how establishing the scientific study of sex and a normative idea of modernity mutually supported each other. I interrogate how sexologist knowledge production relied on a 'truth of sex' to support a normative notion of modernity, and how, in turn, it relied on the ideas of the modern and civilization in promoting a truth about sex.