Sunday, December 29, 2013

New book on the role of skepticism in the development of Islamic theology

by Salman Hameed

End of the semester and then a trip to Pakistan kept me away from Irtiqa. There are a number of items in the backlog. But first I wanted to point out this new book, Skepticism in Classical: Moments of Confusion by Paul L. Heck. The book looks really interesting, but I haven't seen a review yet. Oh and it is also obscenely priced at $145! Well, this is what you get for academic publishing (actually you can also rent the book on Kindle for $34). Nevertheless, here is the description:
The first major treatment of skepticism in Islam, this book explores the critical role of skeptical thinking in the development of theology in Islam. It examines the way key thinkers in classical Islam faced perplexing questions about the nature of God and his
relation to the world, all the while walking a fine line between belief in God’s message as revealed in the Qur’an, and the power of the mind to discover truths on its own. 
Skepticism in Classical Islam reveals how doubt was actually an integral part of scholarly life at this time. Skepticism is by no means synonymous with atheism. It is, rather, the admission that one cannot convincingly demonstrate a truth claim with certainty, and Islam’s scholars, like their counterparts elsewhere, acknowledged such impasses, only to be inspired to find new ways to resolve the conundrums they faced. Whilst their conundrums were unique, their admission of the limits of knowledge shares much with other scholarly traditions. 
Seeking to put Islam on the map of the broader study of the history of scepticism, this book will be of interest to scholars and students of Religion, History and Philosophy.
Sounds fascinating. On a related topic, there is a chapter on medieval Muslim freethinkers in Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt - A History. But then Hecht was looking at freethinkers and not those who were  also working on Islamic theology.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Saturday Video: Talal Asad - "Thinking about religion, secularism and politics"

by Salman Hameed

If you are interested in a thoughtful conversation about Islam and secularism, you should spend about an hour with Talal Asad here. Among other books, he is the author of Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity and the highly influential Geneologies of Religion: Disciplines and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. This is also an antidote to the often simplistic (and sometimes crass) discussions of religion, in particular Islam, in the European and American public spheres. The interview below starts with Talal Asad's background, and I was surprised to know that he spent his formative years in Pakistan.

Yes - the interview style is a bit from the 70s, but the content is very good. Also, you should know that this interview was conducted in 2009 - before the Arab Spring(s).

This comes via Tabsir.

Monday, December 02, 2013

SSiMS talk on "Islamic Structures of Science and Society"

by Salman Hameed

If you are in the area, join us for Wednesday lunch talk hosted by the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) and the School of Cognitive Science at Hampshire College. Here are the details:

 Islamic structures of science and society
Lydia Wilson
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
at Noon
Adele Simmons Hall, Hampshire College

Abstract: I will argue that an analysis of the relationship between science and Islam can provide a fresh lens through which to look at the functioning of modern political Islam and contemporary Muslim societies. In analysing contemporary critiques of science in the Muslim world, echoes with the situation under totalitarian regimes were hard to ignore, most obviously in: 1) treatment of dissenters; 2) other forms of political interference; 3) a creation and defence of an alternative scientific epistemology; and 4) a definition of, and attacks on, an enemy. This last gives an insight into political and social attitudes more broadly. The definition of the enemy under Soviet theory was class-based (bourgeois or capitalist); under the Nazis it was race-based (non-Aryan and in particular Jewish); in certain Islamic science discourses today it is geopolitical (Western science, often conflated with “modern”). There have been various characterisations given of “Western” science in the Muslim world, and a variety of responses, from total rejection to complete assimilation. But even within societies creating an Islamic epistemology for science, scientists play a high profile role, including within extremist movements, both violent and non-violent. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood appointed an engineer to be Prime Minister, and engineers are vastly over-represented in jihadist attacks in the past 20 years. This ambivalence to science can be seen as one instance of the ambivalence to Western culture more generally.

Biographical statement: Lydia Wilson is the Mellon postdoctoral fellow at CUNY Graduate Center. After completing a PhD in medieval Arabic philosophy (University of Cambridge, UK), she shifted to the modern Middle East, building on previous journalism experience to pursue anthropological research, particularly anthropology of conflict. Lydia reviews regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, and edits the Cambridge Literary Review.

In the Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) Lobby at Hampshire College.          
A light lunch will be available at noon.