Islamic science, cultural difference and colonization – Harun Küçük (University of Pennsylvania)

May 13, 2021 @ 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Helen Curry

Almost since its emergence as a field, the history of Islamic science has played a key role in the narrative of the preservation and flourishing of Greek science, particularly as it pertains to the emergence of modern science. In many ways, the history of Islamic science remains the most Hellenophiliac, to use David Pingree’s familiar term, among the arguably non-Western histories of science. Scholars working on earlier periods easily relate to Greek categories of natural inquiry and largely share the conceptual parameters that we often associate with Western science. Scholars of the modern period, by contrast, associate more easily with other parts of the world and now join the broad effort to decolonize the history of science. Consequently, there is a chasm between the progressive narrative that dominates the earlier periods and the more pessimistic narrative that dominates the modern period as Muslim polities have in fact been subject to literal and discursive types of violence. The notion of decline is almost universally rejected in favour of explanations involving colonial domination and cultural difference. But do cultural difference or colonization sufficiently explain the career of science among modern Muslim polities? Conversely, does Islamic science explain the developments that took place in the earlier centuries? In this talk, I wish to approach these questions from a materialist perspective by deploying the case of early modern Istanbul as a methodological tool and scientific labour as an analytical term.

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