Science and Medicine

Anna Akasoy

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:
Science and Medicine


Scholarship in the history of texts on science and medicine written in Arabic and other languages of the Muslim world gives the impression of a much more fragmented field than many others. This is largely owing to the nature of the objects of investigation, which are often connected to one another only by the fact that they fit into the very general category of “science.” Furthermore, the history of this field can be approached from a variety of perspectives. While some of the most important scholarship has been done in the form of editions and the philological study of text transmission, often across languages and cultures, other scholars have tried to contextualize developments in science and medicine within historical institutional, social, intellectual, and political frameworks. Likewise, the size of the Islamic world and the fact that Islamic history stretches from late antiquity until the present day are reflected in the diversity of objects in the history of science and the possibilities of studying them. Much of the scholarship remains highly specialized and is not easily accessible as it involves not only a training in the relevant languages and histories, but also in the scientific fields themselves. As the collections of articles listed show, many historians are working on more than one scientific discipline, especially in cases where there are links as, for example, between astrology and astronomy or astrology and medicine. While organizers of conferences and editors of collected volumes often make an effort to present general questions that apply to several scientific disciplines, because of the nature of the subject and the state of research, unified approaches have barely developed. However, as in all history of science, two trends deserve to be distinguished. One of them approaches historical works on science in terms of their achievements from a modern point of view, identifying continuities and “progress,” whereas the other one tries to understand historical scientific traditions more within the contexts of their own time. These debates are often politically loaded and connected to more general notions of the “progressive” character of civilizations. In the history of sciences, this often takes the shape of debates about what the West “owes” the Muslim world and who was the first to discover a certain phenomenon. Furthermore, the rise of nationalism in the Islamic world has led to claims of certain developments for individual heritages. As in the history of philosophy, another major controversy concerns the role of religion. This is obvious in the terminology—should we speak, for example, of “Arabic” or “Islamic” science and medicine?—as well as in different views regarding a possible positive or negative impact of religion on scientific developments.

Article.  12123 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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