science, medicine

The science of the medieval Islamic world is generally thought by historians to have fuelled the Renaissance and the post-Renaissance scientific revolution which ran to the late 1800s. In this three-hour tutorial, we take students on a scintillating trip through the golden age of Islamic science, considering its contributions to Western empirical enquiry, its incredible discoveries and its decline. The tutorial is intended to be of value to students reading philosophy, history of science and medicine, neuroscience, psychology and anthropology. 

The age of scientific and medical discovery in the region of the Arabic peninsula ran from around the 9th century BCE to the 1600s. And yet many academics would argue that the academic investigation of Islamic science has yet to begin in earnest. The majority of major scientific texts have yet to be translated from Arabic and have yet to be examined by the scholars of today. However, what we do know about this history of scientific enquiry is fascinating. We will begin this tutorial with a journey into the history and geography of the region in the eighth and ninth centuries, and address some of the reasons why Arabic learning and science progressed and impressed for up to 1000 years. We introduce the Caliph Abu al-Abbas al-Mamun, who in the 9th century, established the House of Wisdom, an institute whose purpose was to translate into Arabic important manuscripts such as Ptolemy's Great Work. We evaluate the discoveries and contributions of great thinkers such as Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, also known as Alhazen, and Abu Ali al-Hussein Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna. We introduce Al-Haytham's 10th century experiments with light and vision, paving the way for the modern theories of optics and we overview the major work of Ibn Sina, who authored the Canons of Medicine, a million-word medical encyclopaedia. We also provide a focus on the work of Muhammad ibn Zakariya Al-Razi, also known as Rhazes, who authored over 200 scientific treatises, many of which were of huge influence on Western medicine. In arguably his most famous manuscript - Liber Continens, a medical encyclopaedia - Rhazes describes the cranial and spinal cord nerves and presents case studies in clinical neurology. In the second half of this tutorial we examine how such science and medicine influenced Western thought and why Islamic science declined from around the 13th century, though Western and Islamic scholars disagree over the extent of this decline. Why are Muslims underrepresented in 21st century world science? And how valid is the viewpoint that science has been "Islamicized", as the Koran is now identified in some religious teachings as the seat of scientific knowledge? 

For further information and a programme, please email Dr Guy Sutton at the address in the footer below.

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