Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance

Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance

George Saliba
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance
    Book Description:

    The Islamic scientific tradition has been described many times in accounts of Islamic civilization and general histories of science, with most authors tracing its beginnings to the appropriation of ideas from other ancient civilizations--the Greeks in particular. In this thought-provoking and original book, George Saliba argues that, contrary to the generally accepted view, the foundations of Islamic scientific thought were laid well before Greek sources were formally translated into Arabic in the ninth century. Drawing on an account by the tenth-century intellectual historian Ibn al-Nadim [macron over i] that is ignored by most modern scholars, Saliba suggests that early translations from mainly Persian and Greek sources outlining elementary scientific ideas for the use of government departments were the impetus for the development of the Islamic scientific tradition. He argues further that there was an organic relationship between the Islamic scientific thought that developed in the later centuries and the science that came into being in Europe during the Renaissance.Saliba outlines the conventional accounts of Islamic science, then discusses their shortcomings and proposes an alternate narrative. Using astronomy as a template for tracing the progress of science in Islamic civilization, Saliba demonstrates the originality of Islamic scientific thought. He details the innovations (including new mathematical tools) made by the Islamic astronomers from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, and offers evidence that Copernicus could have known of and drawn on their work. Rather than viewing the rise and fall of Islamic science from the often-narrated perspectives of politics and religion, Saliba focuses on the scientific production itself and the complex social, economic, and intellectual conditions that made it possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28288-8
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 The Islamic Scientific Tradition: Question of Beginnings I
    (pp. 1-26)

    This chapter and the next address one of the most interesting aspects of Islamic civilization: the rise of a scientific tradition that was crucial to the development of universal science in pre-modern times. These chapters are connected by a common title, to indicate their interdependence. This first chapter surveys the various theories that have confronted the question of why and when this scientific tradition came into existence. It begins with a detailed account of the theories. The critique that follows addresses their failure to account for the facts as we know them from the primary scientific and historical sources of...

  5. 2 The Islamic Scientific Tradition: Question of Beginnings II
    (pp. 27-72)

    The detailed critique of the classical narrative, in the preceding chapter, was undertaken for the sole purpose of liberating the historical and scientific sources from the stronghold of presupposed ideas. And now that we have seen the inadequacy of this classical narrative, I think it is time to abandon it altogether in favor of an alternative narrative that can explain the texts and the facts of history slightly better. In this, as throughout this book, I will rely more heavily on the discipline of astronomy to illustrate its progress in light of another narrative that could explain its various phases...

  6. 3 Encounter with the Greek Scientific Tradition
    (pp. 73-130)

    Like all messages that suffer from the reputation of the messenger, the incoming translations of Greek and Sanskrit texts, that began to be produced toward the end of the Umayyad and beginning of the Abbasid period, as a result of ‘Abd al-Malik’s reforms, began to be naturally associated with those classes of people who were now considered outside the bureaucracy of thedīwān,thus foreign to the body politic of the government hierarchy itself. On the opposing side were those who acquired their new jobs by virtue of their mastery of the Arabic language, which was now the new language...

  7. 4 Islamic Astronomy Defines Itself: The Critical Innovations
    (pp. 131-170)

    Now that we have seen the kind of reactions the encounter with Greek science has produced in Islamic civilization, we can better appreciate the context for the astronomical developments that took place, as we continue to use astronomy as a template for the other disciplines that must have experienced similar transformations. In astronomy, the reactions expressed, at all levels, ranged from simple corrections of what was thought to be a mistake in the text, as was done by al-Ḥajjāj in the case of theAlmagest,to correcting the basic parameters by fresh observations, as in the case of re-determining the...

  8. 5 Science between Philosophy and Religion: The Case of Astronomy
    (pp. 171-192)

    The previous chapters focused on the social, political, and economic conditions that gave rise to and sustained science in the Islamic civilization. We had a chance to draw very broadly on the historical as well as the scientific sources themselves in order to illustrate with particular examples how these processes of motivation and encouragement as well as reward worked in order to enable certain scientific disciplines to be born, others to be abandoned, and still others to be maintained and reconstructed. We hinted several times already that we used the discipline of Astronomy only as a template simply because there...

  9. 6 Islamic Science and Renaissance Europe: The Copernican Connection
    (pp. 193-232)

    The new mathematical tools that were developed by the astronomers of the Islamic world did not only prove to be very useful for the emergence of new ways of looking at theoretical astronomy, as we have already seen, but also allowed astronomers to manipulate mathematical models so that they could meet the observational requirements. We have also seen this trend culminate in the works of Khafrī who demonstrated a total mastery of mathematics so much so that he attained complete freedom to use whatever mathematical configuration he wished in order to represent the same physical observational phenomenon. Mathematics became a...

  10. 7 Age of Decline: The Fecundity of Astronomical Thought
    (pp. 233-256)

    The previous chapter demonstrated very clearly the kind of results that were produced in the Islamic world and the impact those results had had on Renaissance Europe. In the chapters before that, where I talked about the encounter with the Greek scientific legacy and the innovations that encounter produced, I also noted that although the critiques of Greek thought began early on, the more mature criticism and the confidence with which the Greek scientific edifice began to be dismantled and replaced by more consistent alternatives, and far more sophisticated deployment of mathematics, did not really take place until the later...

  11. Notes and References
    (pp. 257-288)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-306)
  13. Index
    (pp. 307-316)