Saturday, November 29, 2014

SSiMS talk on Monday by Stefano Bigliardi: "My Quest for Islam and Modern Science: Challenges, Results and Prospects"

by Salman Hameed

Our next SSiMS talk is on Monday by Stefano Bigliardi. He will be talking about his book, Islam and the Quest for Modern Science, in which he interviews various contemporary Muslim figures who are all approaching Islam and modern science from different perspectives. Here is the title and abstract for Stefano's talk:

My Quest for Islam and Modern Science: Challenges, Results and Prospects 
by Dr. Stefano Bigliardi
Tec de Monterrey, Campus Santa Fe, Mexico City, Mexico.

Monday, December 1st at 4:00pm in East Lecture Hall, Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 
Hampshire College

Abstract: Drawing upon the research that resulted in his monograph, Islam and the Quest for Modern Science (Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 2014), Bigliardi will describe the complex landscape of the contemporary debate over the harmony of Islam and science. He will discuss the definition of the so-called “new generation”, i.e., a group of authors with a strong background in the natural sciences who seemingly refuse to find “scientific notions” in the Qur’an as well as any “Islamization” of the scientific method, while they accept biological evolution.

Biographical Statement: Bigliardi obtained a PhD in Philosophy of Science (2008) at the University
of Bologna in a joint supervision with the University of Konstanz (Germany) with a thesis about the concept of belief. His postdoctoral research complemented a Western/ analytical philosophical outlook with the study of Islam. His project was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Konstanz, Germany. He later joined the faculty of CMES (Center for Middle Eastern Studies) at Lund University, where he served as a researcher and a lecturer. He currently serves as a philosophy teacher at Tec de Monterrey, Campus Santa Fe, Mexico City.

This talk is hosted by the Hampshire College Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS).

Friday, November 28, 2014

A nice article in Nature on the 50th anniversary of Salam's Centre for Theoretical Physics

by Salman Hameed

Fifty years ago, Abdus Salam and Italian physicist Paolo Budinich established the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. One of the main goals of the centre was to help physicists from third world countries. Last week, Nature had a wonderful article about the influence of ICTP and it used the example of Narayan Adhiskar of physics department at Tribuvan University (TU) in Nepal. There are parts of the story that will feel quite familiar to Pakistan and other countries in the developing world:
The dust in Kathmandu cloaks everything. It carpets the streets with a dingy layer. Women cutting waist-high grass are wearing face masks to keep it out. And it settles on the dilapidated buildings of Tribhuvan University (TU) — the biggest scientific establishment in Nepal. 
Narayan Adhikari, however, has managed to stay clean. Clad in an impeccable white shirt and black trousers, he adds his motorbike to a collection of some 20 others parked haphazardly in front of a 3-storey building, the university's physics department. Before entering his tiny lab, the 44-year-old researcher removes his shoes to keep the dirt out. In the lab are a dozen desktop computers, which the department received in 2009 — before that, there were none. Power blackouts happen every day, lasting for up to 16 hours, and the Internet connection works “maybe one day a month”, Adhikari says. 
Despite this, for the past eight years Adhikari and his students have been producing a stream of theoretical-physics papers on the properties of materials such as atom-thick graphene. It is a rare — if not unique — achievement for a physics lab in Nepal, and Adhikari's contributions are also helping to build up his department as a whole, by boosting the number of PhD students being trained there. “Doing physics in a country like Nepal is a real challenge,” he says. 
Adhikari's accomplishments are rooted in more than his own determination and wit; they also draw on support from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), an organization based a world away in the picturesque Italian seaside town of Trieste. Set up in 1964 by Pakistani physics Nobel laureate Abdus Salam and Italian physicist Paolo Budinich, it aims to advance theoretical physics in the developing world. Salam, who died in 1996, wanted the centre to be “a home away from home” for researchers from the poorest regions of the world. After they passed through the ICTP's programmes of training and research, he hoped that alumni would establish scientific communities in their home countries, rather than settling abroad as so many scientists did. Adhikari, who completed the ICTP's one-year postgraduate-diploma programme in 1998, is one of the institute's success stories. 
Adhikari is hardly the only one. In the 50 years since it was established, the ICTP has trained more than 100,000 scientists from 188 countries through its workshops and courses. Researchers who studied there have contributed to major discoveries in fields ranging from string theory and neutrino physics to climate change, and have racked up a trophy cabinet of academic prizes, including shares in a pair of Nobels. Most physicists credit the institute with stemming the brain drain and bolstering academia in the developing world. The institute is “widely admired”, says Martin Rees, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and former head of the Royal Society in London, who hopes that it will “inspire the creation of similar institutions covering other scientific fields”.
Here is a graphic showing that most people who get diplomas from ICTP ends up with a PhD and other degrees in the field:

The Nature article also provides a background of the founding rationale for ICTP:
The seeds of the ICTP were planted after the Second World War, when physicists including Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr championed the concept of a United Nations-backed centre to promote peaceful nuclear-physics research. Initially, this led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But
for Abdus Salam, a science prodigy from Pakistan who had been made a physics professor at Imperial College London by the age of 31, that was not enough. 
Speaking to the IAEA's General Conference in 1960, he outlined his idea for an IAEA-backed organization that would promote theoretical-physics research in the developing world and bridge East and West in the cold war. In the audience was Paolo Budinich, head of physics at the University of Trieste, who shared the dream. The two men initially encountered resistance to the idea of building a new centre; critics argued that it would be easier and cheaper for developing-world physicists to visit existing labs in the developed world. But Salam and Budinich won the argument, not least after they secured the financial backing of the Italian government and the support of the IAEA and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They chose to locate the centre in Trieste, which was politically symbolic because it sat right next to the Iron Curtain that divided East and West. 
When the institute opened in 1964, it rapidly established itself as a place for high-level research and training, welcoming scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain and from farther afield. The centre, which initially offered scientists a two-to-three-month grant to work in Trieste, “was like a source of oxygen to Third World scientists”, says Abdelkrim Aoudia, a geophysicist from Algeria who works at the ICTP. 
Even in the institute's early days, many Nobel laureates served as visiting professors. When, in 1979, Salam shared a Nobel prize with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg for the unification of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, the organization's prestige skyrocketed. Speaking at the anniversary celebrations, Salam's son Ahmad, an investment banker at EME Capital in London, wiped away tears as he remembered the sacrifices his father made while he set up the centre — not least spending little time with his children. “He had a much bigger mission in life,” said Ahmad. 
Today, around 2,500 developing-world scientists visit the ICTP each year. About 50 of these enrol in the one-year diploma, an intense predoctoral education programme taught by experts from around the world. (The institute identifies students through both an application process and the recommendations of researchers and teachers.) Many of the rest — including Adhikari — are part of the Associates Scheme, which supports scientists from developing countries to make regular visits to the ICTP, where they network and update their skills. What makes the institute successful, say those involved, is its focus on nurturing talented scientists and keeping them connected to the international community, while encouraging them to continue research at home.
That approach is working, says Fernando Quevedo, the ICTP's director. Three-quarters of the students who have completed the diploma programme have received PhDs, or are working towards them, and more than half of those who complete PhDs go back to their home countries (see 'Sticking with science'). More than 90% of associates remain in their home countries for their careers. Some, inevitably, do end up abroad, but even in those cases, the ICTP often claims success. One of the world's leading string theorists, Argentinian Juan Maldacena, who works at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, attributes his achievements in part to the ICTP, because of the training that he and his master's supervisor received at the centre.
The article is behind the paywall. If you have access, you can read it here.

But of course, you should know that there is a wonderful new documentary on Abdus Salam is in the works.The filmmakers are close to the finish line. If you can help in getting the film finished - then please do. This is worthy project! Here is the fundraising trailer:

Abdus Salam Docufilm - Fundraising Teaser (2014) from Kailoola Productions LLC on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

SSiMS talk tomorrow by Caroline Tee: "The Technical Sciences and the Purposes of God"

by Salman Hameed

We are excited to have our lunch talk tomorrow on Turkey. Our speaker is Carline Tee from University of Bristol, UK. Join us tomorrow if you can. Here is the abstract of the talk and her bio:

The Technical Sciences and the Purposes of God
Theory and Practice in the Hizmet Movement in Turkey
Caroline Tee
Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
University of Bristol, UK

Wednesday, November 18, 2014
 at Noon 
Adele Simmons Hall, Hampshire College

Abstract: This presentation explores the philosophical justification for engagement as religious actors in the technical sciences, showing how practitioners within the movement derive spiritual meaning from the practical application of science, namely in the fields of medicine and engineering, by drawing on the Nursian doctrine of ‘positive action’. This observation is situated within a wider ethnographic framework which traces the activities and evolving priorities of the Hizmet Movement, focusing on its emergence as an actor in the lucrative field of private higher education in Turkey in recent years.

Speaker Bio: Dr. Caroline Tee is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Department of
Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, UK. She holds a MA in Islamic Studies and a PhD in Social Anthropology. She is currently working on a two-year project funded by The John Templeton Foundation exploring the teaching of science within an Islamic milieu in Hizmet schools in Turkey.

This talk is hosted by the School of Cognitive Science and the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS)

In The ASH Lobby at Hampshire College.
A light lunch will be available at noon

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ferdowsi's 11th century epic Shahnameh in illustration

by Salman Hameed

I have posted about Hamzanama and Tilisme-Hoshruba before (see: Homer meets Tolkien in Medieval World and Tilisme-Hoshruba: "Magic that will blow your senses away"). These are South Asian stories mixed with Iranian and Arab/Islamic tales. Well, if you go back a bit, you run into the grand-daddy of these stories: Ferdowsi's epic poem, Shehnameh (The Book of Kings). There are new illustrations of the epic now by a New York based artist, Hamid Rahmanian. From the Guardian:
After the enormous success of the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, as well as blockbusters such as 300 and Clash of the Titans, the time might be right for Persian mythology to find an audience in the west. 
Iran's national epic, the Shahnameh, involves many of the same themes and motifs as popular works of fantasy: heroic quests, magical beasts, devilish monsters, passionate romances, fierce intrigues over power, and monumental conflicts fought across immense spans of time. 
Written more than 1,000 years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (940–ca. 1019), the Shahnameh recounts a long, legendary history of the Iranian people from the beginning of civilisation until the historical Arab conquest of the region in the seventh century. The heart of the narrative concerns the adventures of Iran's most celebrated mythological hero, Rostam.
On a nostalgic note, can I mention that I still remember seeing a movie called "Rostam and Sohrab" back in the late 70s or early 80s. I went with my older brother and I was probably 9 or 10. I have no idea who made that film but I remember the ending quite distinctly (yes, it was sad - Rostam kills his son, Sohrab, in the final battle but he did't know that Sohrab was his son. It is not a spoiler if the story is a 1000 years old and even the movie is at least a several decades old!). I have tried finding that movie, but have been unsuccessful. May be it was a local Pakistani production - but don't know. There is an Iranian and an Indian version from the 1950s, but as I remember, this film was in color (oh the fields got bright red from the blood of the dead from the two armies - I think I'm still impacted by the film :) ). Anyways, so here is one of the new illustrations that depicts a scene between Rostam and Sohrab:
Sohrab assesses his enemy's strength and looks for his father, Rostam

Here is a short video by the artist explaining how some of the images were created. Here is specifically talking about the scene when Sohrab learns the identity of his father:

Here are a couple of more illustrations: 
Siavosh confides in Piran about his doomed fate

The young Feraydun crosses the Arvand River to confront the serpent king Zahhak

Siavosh marries the Turanian commander's daughter

You can see more about these illustrations and buy a copy here

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Your chance to explore medieval Arabic manuscripts from your basement

by Salman Hameed

This is a phenomenal resource. The Qatar Foundation in collaboration with The British Library have just digitized and placed 25,000 medieval Arabic documents in the collection of The Digital Qatar Library. And the access is free! Basically you can now do your historical research in your pajamas. The archive actually contains documents all the way to the 20th century. You can search this digital library by subject, by type (for example, photographs, maps, letters etc), or by people or organization.  So for example, here are pictures of Mecca and Medina from 1907: Album of 'Views of Mecca and Medina' by H. A. Mirza & Sons, Photographers, and here is a sample picture:

But of course, you can also browse through documents related to Arabic science. The Guardian has done of fine job of highlighting some of the key pictures from those documents (tip from Vika Gardner). For example, here is a page from the Arabic translation of the one of the most influential books of ancient/medieval astronomy, Ptolemy's Almagest (see here for more detail):

And here is a page from a treatise on astrology by 10th century philosopher, al-Biruni (though this copy was probably made in the 15th century - se here for more detail):

And here is a primer by al-Biruni on the construction and use of astrolabes (see here for more detail):

There is a lot more at the digital library. If you have a chance, spend a few minutes and at least browse through some of the books. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

SSiMS talk today: "Creating Creationists: Understanding Public Perceptions of Clash Narratives between Evolutionary Science and Belief"

by Salman Hameed

This is a very short notice (hey - I just came back from a conference last night), but still wanted to announce this talk - which should be excellent. Our speaker is Dr. Fern Elsdon-Baker, and here is the abstract and bio information. Join us if you are in close range:

"Creating Creationists: Understanding Public Perceptions of Clash Narratives between Evolutionary Science and Belief" 
by Dr. Fern Elsdon-Baker, Coventry University, UK.

Monday, November 3rd at 4:00pm in West Lecture Hall, Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 
Hampshire College

Abstract: Clash narratives relating to evolutionary science and personal belief are a recurrent theme in media or public space discourse. However, a 2009 British Council poll undertaken in 10 countries worldwide shows that the perception of a necessary clash between evolutionary worldviews and belief in a God is a minority viewpoint. How, then does the popular conception that there is an ongoing conflict between evolution and belief in God arise? One contributing factor is the framing and categorisation of creationism and evolutionism within large-scale surveys for use within media campaigns. This paper examines the issues framing within four polls conducted both in the UK and internationally between 2008 – 2013. It argues that by ignoring the complexity and range of perspectives individuals hold, or by framing evolutionary science as atheistic, we are potentially creating ‘creationists’ - including ‘Islamic creationists’ - both figuratively and literally.

Biographical Statement: Dr. Fern Esldon-Baker is Senior Research Fellow and Principal Investigator of Clash Narratives in Context Project at Coventry University, UK.  She previously
worked for the British Council as Head of the Darwin Now Project. Darwin Now was a large-scale multi-million pound global initiative running in 50 countries worldwide, which celebrated the life and work of Charles Darwin, as part of the international celebrations of the Darwin anniversaries in 2009. She then became Director of the Belief in Dialogue Program - a portfolio of inter-cultural dialogue projects, exploring how people in the UK and internationally can live peacefully with diversity and difference in an increasingly pluralistic world, which include projects exploring the relationship between science, culture and modernity. Her research is predominantly philosophical, historical and sociological in approach. She focuses on: intercultural and cross community dialogue; the communication of evolutionary science; the role of ‘science’ or ‘worldviews’ as identity markers and in public space ‘clash narratives’, or prejudice formation; and the perceptions of evolutionary theory within faith communities. She is currently serving on the Arts and Humanities Research Council advisory board for the ‘Science in Culture’ Research theme and the programmes committee for the British Society for the History of Science. She is also recorder for the History of Science section and serves on general committee for the British Science Association.

This talk is hosted by the Hampshire College Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS).