The third Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies:
Ethnic encounter and culture change
Joensuu, Finland, 19-22 June 1995

Edward Westermarck and Hilma Granqvist in the field of Orientalist discourse in Finland

Riina Isotalo
University of Tampere

It has been suggested that Knut Tallqvist (1865-1949) and Harri Holma (1886-1954) dominated Orientalist research on the Middle East and its popularization in Finland between the wars (Kantokorpi, 58). A view like this excludes the research by Edward Westermarck and Hilma Granqvist, because Tallqvist among others wished to exclude research with an anthropological approach, called 'sociological' at the time, from Orientalism. I cite Tallqvist, 'How cult prostitution is to be explained is not relevant here. That remains for the sociologists to do' (Tallqvist, 268).

However, if one starts from the idea that Orientalism is primarily defined through its object, the Orient, the core of which is the Middle East in Edward Said's treatment among others, Tallqvist's argument appears in a different light. For instance, explaining cult prostitution is secondary to Orientalist discourse, because a phenomenon appearing in a particular connection is relevant to the information produced by Orientalist discourse only if the phenomenon appears in the context of the Orient. In such a case, the factor which primarily defines the phenomenon is its Orientalness.

The Orientalist Edward Westermarck

Edward Westermarck can be seen as part of the Finnish field of Orientalism in the 1920s and the 1930s for two reasons. First, Westermarck's 'Ritual and Belief in Morocco I-II', an important study of Morocco and Westermarck's major work, was published in 1926. Second, Westermarck was both Rector and Professor of Philosophy at Åbo Akademi during the period. This makes him part of the professional, scientific and economic institutions which the discourse formations of Finnish research were related to.

A kind of 'scientific interspace' has been mentioned in connection with Westermarck (e.g. von Wright, Ihanus). This refers to Westermarck's association with philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology and, in the context of this article, Orientalism. Westermarck's position in British anthropology connects him to Orientalism as a political doctrine. He stated the following in an inaugural lecture in London in 1907, 'I am convinced that when dealing with non-European people, applied knowledge on their circumstances would be more useful than gun powder. It would be more humane - and less expensive' (Westermarck 1907). However, I will not approach Westermarck as part of the crisis of anthropology or the paradigmatic revolution of social anthropology, as being in a tricky situation between James Frazer and Bronislaw Malinowski. Instead, I will study Westermarck's thinking and methodological solutions in relation to the methodological grammar of the classical, linguistically oriented Orientalism and its thought structures. In other words, I am placing Westermarck's 'scientific interspace' in the framework of the discourse identity of Orientalism. I have mentioned above that Knut Tallqvist, who represented classical Orientalism in Finland, wished to exclude research with a 'sociological' or an anthropological approach from his own field of research. Edward Westermarck's methodological solutions are, however, not very different from Tallqvist's own linguistic methods.

Evolutionism has often been mentioned as the spiritual home of Westermarck. His work was built on Darwinism, but he ended up a critical evolutionist who did not believe in unilinear evolution (Ihanus, 51). The method used by the evolutionists, comparativism, has mainly been associated with the natural sciences. In the natural sciences it was possible to complement a suggested evolutionary line with suitable observations from other sources. As we all know, the comparative method, however, has its origin in linguistics. Comparative text linguistics was reshaped in the nineteenth century by Ernest Renan among others, and cultural studies and the social sciences began applying the comparative method to fields of study other than manuscripts. Edward Said suggested in Orientalism that along with Silvestre de Sacy it is Renan who is responsible for the methodological grammar of Orientalism. Comparative linguistics was well-known to the scientific community of Westermarck, because his close colleagues in Cambridge, William Robertson Smith and James Frazer, were trained comparative linguistics (see e.g. Siikala). The application of comparative linguistics to Anthropology began among the nineteenth century German mythological school, in the objectives declared by the head figures of the school, Max Muller and Wilhelm Mannhardt.

In his studies of Morocco, Edward Westermarck was not interested in the systemic character of Moroccan society, but in selected cultural features. The features were selected strictly on the lines of Mannhardt and Frazer. John Davis, who has studied the Mediterranean cultures, has said that Westermarck's Morocco studies are like a geographically delimited Frazer (Siikala, 29). From a structural viewpoint, Westermarck's ethnography, which is based on strictly empirical listing, resembles the type- and motif-index method developed by folklorists. In a way similar to Westermarck's approach, the method is based on a cultural feature, not culture as a functional whole. One of the characteristics of a cultural feature is that it is the smallest feature capable of being handed down in tradition. In order to be handed down, the feature must have a striking quality to it. Jukka Siikala claims that type- and motif-indices are just a bit more formalized way of presenting the ethnographic information contained in Westermarck's lists such as 'among these... among those...' (ibid., 30).

From a structural point of view, Westermarck's ethnography corresponds to the fragmentation theory of classical Orientalism. Silvestre de Sacy was the first to compile chrestomathies, i.e. readers, in the framework of this theory relying on cultural essentialism. The core of a chrestomathy was the smallest fragment or cultural feature which was believed to express the essence of a culture (see further, Antoine Silvestre de Sacy, Crestomathie arabe I-III, Paris 1806-1827). This corresponds to the definition of a motif-index (see further Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk Literature Vol. I, Bloomington 1955). Despite structural similarities between Orientalist chrestomathies and Westermarck's ethnography, the principles regulating their interpretation were not the same. Westermark's analysis was not based on language: Westermarck did not claim to have studied Moroccan society, but beliefs in the region of Morocco. He also had a firm opinion that applying the philological method as such to the formation of moral conception had proved a failure. He expressed his view more than twenty-four years before the publication of his important Morocco study, 'Language is a rough generalizer. The attempt to apply the philological method to an examination of moral conception has proved a failure' (in Ihanus 1900). Since Westermarck was not studying Moroccan society, his view on applying the philological method is part of the 'sociology' which the Assyriologist and classical Orientalist Knut Tallqvist was eager to exclude from Orientalist discourse. Westermarck was not prepared to make statements on the mentality and moral of members of another culture on the basis of their language.

Westermarck's belief in the mental oneness of the humankind is reflected in his value relativism. The idea of a universal human being extends to moral consciousness. The importance of the concept of Enlightenment to Westermarck is indicated in his belief in progress, also in the context of morality. The development of moral consciousness meant to Westermarck the progress of the members of the community from non-thinking to thinking: from unenlightened to enlightened. Westermarck's ethical relativism manifested itself in that according to him moral critiques did not describe external realities, but were based on the emotional projections of the critic. In other words, the objective validity of the moral concept is a mere illusion (Ihanus, 227-30). This places Westermarck clearly in opposition as regards the moral-oriented claims and generalizations which Orientalism produced regarding the characteristics of the peoples of the Orient.

The 1920s and the 1930s were a time of nationalism in Finland. Westermarck's stand on nationalism is expressed in The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, vol. II, published in 1908. Westermarck saw the racist and nationalist patriotism as 'a real threat to humanity'. To counterbalance this kind of patriotism, he suggested the cosmopolitanism of 'a good patriot'. The cosmopolitan spirit as a characteristic of a good patriot promoted by Westermarck defines his stand on nationalism and minority politics. In Finland, a country saturated with nationalist ideology, the issue seemed to the Swedish-speaking Westermarck primarily to be related to language and the relation between the majority and the Swedish-speaking minority. However, the issue was also one of science in the name of nationalist spirit. In this case, Westermarck's position needs to be considered in connection to both Finnish and English science. Since we are dealing with a researcher who on the one hand thinks the good of humankind is primary to that of a single nation or a state, on the other hand is prepared to give each state the chance to cherish its individuality, defining Westermarck's position is not straightforward. Studying the conflict between Westermarck's view and the connection between British anthropology and colonialism is, however, not within the scope of this article.

Hilma Granqvist's study of Palestine

I discussed briefly above both Finnish 'classical Orientalism' and the 'scientific interspace' represented by Edward Westermarck. Regardless of a geographically common object of study and methodological similarities, the discourse formations did not have a common discourse identity. Although both study the Orient, they are two separate discourse formations.

In order to place Hilma Granqvist's study of Palestine in the field of Orientalist discourse in Finland, I will take a look at her study in the light of two incidents. First, Gunnar Landtman rejected Granqvist's dissertation at the University of Helsinki in 1930. Secondly, Granqvist's application for the post of Docent was rejected at the same university in 1934. During this period, Knut Tallqvist and Gunnar Landtman worked at the University of Helsinki and Edward Westermarck at the privately financed Åbo Akademi. In the context of the policy of making the University of Helsinki more Finnish by diminishing the number of Swedish speakers, one must take into account that Tallqvist, Landtman, Granqvist and Westermarck were all Swedish speakers.

For particular reasons, classical Orientalism was willing to exclude the 'sociological' study of the Orient from its field. Gunnar Landtman was a Docent of Sociology at the University of Helsinki in 1910-27 and a temporary professor in 1927-40. He was also Professor of Philosophy in 1922-46. In other words, he was both Docent of Sociology and Professor of Social and Moral Philosophy for five years. The 1920s and the 1930s was a lean period for research in Finland. For this reason, one might have expected a battle between different fields of research, especially because the scarce financial resources were divided on the basis of arguments related to language. The Finnish nationalist ideology also made demands on research.

As Hilma Granqvist started planning her dissertation in the 1920s, she studied social and moral philosophy. When Granqvist told of her plans to Gunnar Landtman, he approved of Granqvist's idea and suggested that she study women in the Old Testament. Landtman also arranged for Granqvist access to archives in Berlin, so that she could examine her topic thoroughly (Widèn, 27). From Berlin Granqvist joined an archeological research expedition to Jerusalem in order to get to know the scene of the Bible at first hand. In Palestine Granqvist came to the conclusion that research was to be done among living people, 'I needed to live among the people, hear them talk about themselves, make record while they spoke of their life, customs and ways of looking at things' (Granqvist, 2). Granqvist stayed in Palestine after the course in Archeology and chose the Muslim village of Artas as her object of study.

That is to say that Granqvist gave up her initial topic of women in the Old Testament. Had she kept her initial topic, she would for one thing have studied the Hebrew and Jewish women in the Bible; for another thing, she would have studied the past. Along with her initial topic Granqvist abandoned two things: the Christian exegetic aspect which essentially belongs to the discourse identity of classical Orientalism and, methodologically, the reconstruction of the past in the present. At the same time Granqvist abandoned the idea of 'the immovable East', excluding herself from the discourse formation of classical Orientalism in Finland. By choosing to study a single village, Granqvist abandoned both British comparativism and functionalism. The latter began to produce studies of ethnic groups or tribes. Along with this choice, Granqvist practically also excluded herself from the kind of sociological approach adopted by Landtman and Westermarck.

Granqvist explains her methodological choice to study one village by her desire to produce 'a complete set of material'. Granqvist refers here to Westermarck, who at a later stage in his life began to emphasize the importance of monographs along with the comparative method (ibid., 5). Granqvist also suggests a new kind of anthropology, 'A new tendency has appeared in the manner in which material is collected. No longer is one content with general statements only of what custom requires or such indefinite expressions as that "polygynous men are numerous" or that "divorce is frequent"; one insists on having concrete facts, details and figures. One draws up statistical tables and genealogies...' (ibid., 6). To assist her profound study of one village, Granqvist adopts a genealogical method used by Rivers. It becomes a way to approach the marital institution through the history of individuals and families (ibid., 7). Granqvist's methodological solutions can be explained as part of the tendency to emphasize concreteness, which began in German studies of Palestine.

In other words, Granqvist's methodological connections are to be found in German studies of Palestine. The connection of Finnish and German studies of the Orient has been brought up earlier. This connection manifested itself as frequent contacts between Finnish and German scholars in the 1920s and the 1930s (see e.g. Aalto and Karttunen; Isotalo 1994 on structures of interpretation). It is also worth keeping in mind that it was to Berlin that Landtman sent Granqvist for the archives. If one looks at the Finnish classical Orientalism of the era through Said's criticism of Orientalism, Finnish classical Orientalism seems structurally uniform with European discourse. In Said's study, however, his choice of material restricts the European Orientalist discourse to British and French Orientalism only. The discourse formations of Finnish Orientalism, the origin of which is mainly in German Orientalism, produced diverse information relying on diverse premises, structures of interpretation and methodological solutions (Isotalo 1994). For example, Harri Holma's research relied on Theodor Nöldeke's and Walter Sombart's racial theoretical and generalizing constructions (Kantokorpi, 66). This allows one to conclude that Orientalist discourse in Germany was not unified. A careful study of Orientalist discourse in Finland gives reason further to criticize Said's delimitation of material in his Orientalism. The view on German Orientalism opened up by Granqvist's study of Palestine shows that European Orientalist discourse was not monolithic.

Granqvist returned to Helsinki after her research period in Artas. She was soon to find out that Gunnar Landtman and the other 'Sirs of the Senate' did not approve of her new topic and her methodological solutions. Landtman suggested that Granqvist's topic and problem-setting were 'against common research norms' (Widèn, 27-9). Since Granqvist was denied the doctoral degree under Gunnar Landtman's supervision at the University of Helsinki, she resorted to Edward Westermarck, Professor of Philosophy at Åbo Akademi.

Hilma Granqvist got her doctoral degree at Åbo Akademi in 1932. One may ask why the people responsible for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Helsinki saw a study based on one village as conflicting with research norms, that is, why the study did not fit in with the rules of internal coherence of discourse formations. Granqvist's dissertation had actually been possible if she had chosen the discourse formation represented by Landtman, that is, if Granqvist had kept her initial research plan. I will discuss this issue in the context of the conflict caused by Granqvist's application for the post of Docent.

Hilma Granqvist continued working on the material she had gathered. In 1935 she published Marriage Conditions in a Palestinian Village, vol. II and Det religiösa problemet i nutiden. In the same year Granqvist applied for the post of Docent in Sociology or Social and Moral Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. Her application was rejected. Gunnar Landtman, Professor of Sociology, told Granqvist to apply for a post of Docent in Social and Moral Philosophy alone (Widèn, 31). Rafael Karsten, Professor of Social and Moral Philosophy, however, denied Granqvist's competence in Social and Moral Philosophy, which was Granqvist's original field of study. According to Karsten, Granqvist was a sociologist. It is worth pointing out that all parties of the conflict had prepared their dissertations under Westermarck's supervision. In addition to representatives of Sociology and Social and Moral Philosophy, the conflict concerned a representative of classical Orientalism, that is, Aapeli Saarisalo, Professor of Oriental Literature at the University of Helsinki. Granqvist and Saarisalo had met shortly in Palestine during Granqvist's stay there (Vuorela). Saarisalo desired to exclude Granqvist's research from his own field, the Orient, by denying the scientific value of Granqvist's research (Widèn, 31). At this point, one needs to consider Granqvist's gender: Orientalism was traditionally a male-governed area. Saarisalo's view may also have been influenced by his Zionist attitude, which according to Ulla Vuorela is implicitly expressed in Granqvist's notes. Vuorela is preparing a biography on Granqvist. This time, Landtman decided to support Granqvist; in other words, Sociology and classical Orientalism were opposed to each other. Finally, Robert Brotherus, Rector of the University of Helsinki, and Chancellor Hugo Suolahti said the last word and rejected the application (Widèn).

One interpretation for the University's rejection of research based on studying one village is to be found in the network surrounding scientific discourse. Demands made on the University of Helsinki to increase Finnishness culminated in a Government bill presented in 1935, and, as mentioned above, financial resources were scarce. It can be presumed that in this context the University was well aware of the demands of nationalist ideology on Finnish science. In the 1930s it was noted in several contexts that research which did not conform to nationalist ideology was left without support. This kind of research was regarded as coloured by disloyal detachment from the nation and also as an end in itself (Klinge, 173). It is an essential issue whether Granqvist's research fulfilled the criteria of science in the name of nationalist spirit. One might say that a study based on Arab women in one village at a given point in time does not meet the requirements of nationalist-spirited science.

Today, Hilma Granqvist's study on Palestine is an internationally renowned classic. Her complete works deal with the life of Arabs as a whole: marital institution, birth, childhood and death. Nevertheless, Granqvist never got an academic post in Finland after taking the doctoral degree. She made her living for example by writing articles for Suomen Kuvalehti, continuing the Finnish tradition of popularizing Orientalism. Granqvist's Palestine study can be placed in the field of Orientalist discourse in Finland through the ways of thinking which the outlined discourse formations aimed to unite - or to exclude from Orientalism.

The conflicts around Granqvist's dissertation and her application for a docentship showed that there were people eager to exclude Granqvist's research from the discourse both of Sociology and of classical Orientalism. While the two areas were pondering their borderline, Granqvist's research was closer to Sociology. Ultimately, Granqvist was excluded from this field - this by the institution to which the discourse formations were related to, the University of Helsinki. One might thus say that the discourse identity of classical Orientalism was at least slightly attached to nationalism in Finland in the 1920s and the 1930s. However, this presumption implies that there was no one unified discourse formation of Sociology. Edward Westermarck approved Granqvist's research on two levels: as a scholar and as a representative of the institution. On both levels Westermarck excludes research done in the name of nationalism from the 'scientific interspace' represented by himself. The discourse formations which rejected research based on studying a single village ultimately approved of the demands made on research by nationalism. On these grounds Granqvist's study on Palestine and Westermarck's on Morocco belong to the same discourse formation. Since Granqvist's and Westermarck's research differ both in methodology and in character, it is perhaps appropriate to speak of a presystematic condition in Westermarckian sociology. From this point of view one may take a look at how Granqvist's study on Palestine relates to the present; in other words, what its position is in the field of study fragmented by criticism of Orientalism.


There are three discourse formations to be seen through Edward Westermarck's and Hilma Granqvist's research into Finnish Orientalism. Two of these, classical Orientalism and sociological Orientalism, in my view share the discourse identity of 'Saidian Orientalism'. The information gained through these was ultimately national reproduction, to which Said equalled Orientalism. The third discourse formation, Westermarckian sociology, was different from the above mentioned in its relation to nationalist science and its relation to 'the other'.

The way to meet 'the other' contained in the discourse formations of Orientalism defines the ways of thinking which were united in the formations. Classical Orientalism and sociological Orientalism are the formations of Finnish Orientalism which are placed in the same field as 'Saidian Orientalism' and carry with them the ways of thinking contained in political realism and conservatism. In a similar way, Westermarckian sociology encapsulates ways of thinking typical of utopianism and liberalism. Idealism is the epistemic tendency behind these. The idea of Universalism and mental connection among the humankind is an essential part of idealism. Westermarckian sociology thus falls outside the Saidian definition of Orientalism, because its principles do not contain an ontological and epistemological difference between the Orient and the Occident.

The history of Finnish Orientalism, with its Finno-Ugrian sidelines, emphasizes the importance of Orientalism in shaping and strengthening our national identity. Studies of the Orient are an essential part of our historical existence. Our historical existence, defined through Orientalism, defines on its part our national identity, justifies our national existence and thematizes and ritualizes our way to meet 'the other'.


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Riina Isotalo
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