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Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History

Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History

Ahmad Dallal
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History
    Book Description:

    In this wide-ranging and masterful work, Ahmad Dallal examines the significance of scientific knowledge and situates the culture of science in relation to other cultural forces in Muslim societies. He traces the ways in which the realms of scientific knowledge and religious authority were delineated historically. The realization of a discrepancy between tradition and science often led to demolition and rebuilding and, most important, to questioning whether scientific knowledge should take precedence over religious authority in a matter where their realms clearly overlap.

    Dallal frames his inquiry around three concerns: What cultural forces provided the conditions for debate over the primacy of religion or science? How did these debates emerge? And how were they sustained? His primary objectives are to study science in Muslim societies within its larger cultural context and to trace the epistemological distinctions between science and philosophy, on the one hand, and science and religion, on the other. He looks at religious and scientific texts and situates them in the contexts of religion, philosophy, and science. Finally, Dallal describes the relationship negotiated in the classical (medieval) period between the religious, scientific, and philosophical systems of knowledge that is central to the Islamic scientific tradition and shows how this relationship has changed radically in modern times.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15914-1
    Subjects: Religion, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 Beginnings and Beyond
    (pp. 1-53)

    Muslims are enjoined to face Mecca during their five daily prayers, just as all mosques are supposed to be oriented toward the Ka‘ba in Mecca, in what is known as the direction of theqibla.¹ Before mathematical methods became available, Muslims determined the direction of the qibla based on the practices of the early Companions of the Prophet Muḥammad and their successors. They also made use of traditions of folk astronomy and of the astronomical alignment of the Ka‘ba itself. These methods provided reasonable approximations in locations close to Mecca but were quite inaccurate in faraway places like North Africa...

  5. Chapter 2 Science and Philosophy
    (pp. 54-109)

    The relationship between science and philosophy in Islamic intellectual history is often described in one of two contradictory ways. Earlier historians of Islam and Islamic science repeatedly underscored the practical orientation of Islamic science and the lack of theoretical and philosophical rigor. Muslims, according to this thesis, viewed the sciences as crafts, not systems of knowledge, stripping them of their philosophical underpinnings and undermining their systematic and truly scientific nature. According to this view, the philosophical and scientific package that was imported and did not emerge from within Arabic society did not have a serious impact on Islamic culture; as...

  6. Chapter 3 Science and Religion
    (pp. 110-148)

    Some important debates that pertained to the nature of scientific knowledge, the intellectual authority of science, and the social and institutional authority of scientists were primarily religious, not merely joined by religious scholars or driven by a sense of religious unease about the sciences. It is of course a truism to say that the relationship between science and religion in Muslim societies is multifaceted. Nothing else could have been the case, given the temporal and geographical spans of the scientific enterprise in these societies and the diversity of the intellectual traditions that informed views about the science-religion relationship. Although a...

  7. Chapter 4 In the Shadow of Modernity
    (pp. 149-176)

    The title of this book isIslam, Science, and the Challenge of History. My initial challenge was to write a justifiable and nuanced history of Islamic science. Here the questions were how to understand the sciences in classical Muslim societies in their historical contexts; how to avoid the temptation of writing the history of Islamic science as a history of scientific precursors and forerunners; how to provide a reasonably accurate account of the continuously changing social contexts of scientific production; how to achieve a deep, multilayered understanding of the conditions of production and reproduction of a scientific culture; how to...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 177-226)
  9. Index
    (pp. 227-239)