About the Oecumene project

The Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism project ran between 2010 and 2015. The content of this website is an archive for reference only.

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism explores how the concept of citizenship is being refigured and renewed around the globe. At a time when tumultuous world events, from Israel to India, call for a deeper understanding of the purpose and power of citizenship, the project opens up the boundaries of citizenship by exploring political subjectivities outside of Europe

The project focuses on the tension between two different institutions: citizenship, the process by which political subjectivity is recognised and enacted, and orientalism, the process by which Europe is considered the birthplace of ‘universal ideas’ such as democracy, secularism, rights, and capitalism.

What connects citizenship to orientalism? Historically, citizenship has been seen as an exclusively European institution contrasted against non-European societies. Yet, ‘citizenship’ as an expression of our social and political belonging has become ‘unbound’. People across the globe are inventing new ways to claim their democratic rights as citizens.


The Open University is running the Oecumene project in order to reveal citizenship practices that remain either invisible or inaudible outside ‘Europe’ and to explore the possibilities of a renewed and expanded understanding of European citizenship itself.

Throughout the world, people are claiming their rights as citizens, often in ways which create challenges for governments. In Madhya Pradesh, India, indigenous peoples displaced by a dam-building project have occupied and cultivated government owned land. At the same time, the migration of peoples across and into Europe has led governments to build up legal regimes designed to control such movements, for example through the definition of ‘illegality’.

The project’s global reach gives it the unique opportunity to research acts of citizenship across boundaries at a time of rapid change.

Why this matters

We challenge traditional Western perceptions of citizenship and democracy as Western prerogatives and consider the many different routes to democratic citizenship.

We believe that creative responses to the question of government and the rights of the governed will not come from repeating the prejudices of European colonialism, orientalism and nationalism. Global connectedness is not shaped by categories of ‘West’, ‘East’, ‘North’ or ‘South’. Even those meanings that we have given to continents such ‘Asia’, ‘Africa’, ‘Americas’, and ‘Europe’ - as though they are coherent or homogenous cultures - cannot capture this connectedness.

The so-called Arab ‘awakening’, the revolutions and the protests that are sweeping Arab nations, illustrates the inadequacy of traditional Western thinking on cosmopolitanism, transnationalism and human rights. There is an historical view that sees Arabs and other Muslims as well as Chinese and Indian peoples as ‘orientals’ or ‘colonials’. The term ‘awakening’ itself derives from the ‘enlightenment’ that swept America and Europe in the eighteenth century with their slogans of liberty and equality as the rights of the citizen. The assumption is that the ‘orientals’ and ‘colonials’ never learned to become citizens. Oecumene’s research and the debates offer new ways of understanding citizenship across the world.

Oecumene combines academic research with genuine public engagement. Providing a forum for topical discussion and showcasing the work of activists through our blog are just two of the ways that the project shares stories of creative acts of citizenship.

The Oecumene project team

The Oecumene project team

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)ERC: European Research CouncilThe Open University