Lectures on Science in Muslim Societies

The Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies hosts lectures on topics related to Muslims and the sciences.

2016-2017 School Year Lectures

"An Exceptional Umma?  The Media Mainstreaming of American Islam," Thursday, December 8, 2016, 5:30 pm, Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) East Lecture Hall

This talk focuses on a new American exceptionalism that increasingly shapes American Muslim religious discourses, drawing on troubling (and territorialized) constructions of race and Americanness/indigeneity through the analysis of intra-Muslim debates as they are represented in the mainstream US media. 

What do we make of the fact that as the War on Terror systematically undermines transnational charitable, intellectual, and migrational networks that connect American Muslims to the Muslim World, American Muslims are increasingly calling for the breaking of those same ties? 

How are Muslim American religious leaders reproducing their own derivative discourses of ‘Good and Bad Muslims’ in the course of promoting their own projects of Islamic reform? 

How do Muslim American religious leaders respond to charges of religious opportunism by critics who accuse them of “jockeying” for religious authority on the stage of the media?

Case studies of mediatized religious figures will include Yasir Qadhi, Hamza Yusuf, Amina Wadud, and Asra Nomani among others.

Zareena Grewal is a documentary filmmaker and associate professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University. She is the creator of By Dawn's Early Light:  Chris Jackson's Journey to Islam (2004) and author of Islam is a Foreign Country:  American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (2014).

This event is made possible through a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.





2015-2016 School Year Lectures

"Popularity, Politics and Online Video," Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 5:30 p.m. Franklin Patterson Hall Lecture Hall East

Link to audio recording of the lecture from New England Public Radio.

YouTube is just over 10 years old, and alongside its growth, we’ve witnessed the growth of a wholly new publishing form. Even more so than the video camera, online platforms such as YouTube have made video interactions everyday. Once a rarified medium requiring professional equipment and expensive distribution means, publishing video to a global audience is now well and truly an ordinary activity. And increasingly, it is an activity that invites conversation rather than mere broadcast. 

The rapid rise and incredible ordinariness of online video has helped redraw our understanding of what it means to be a successful “broadcaster.” Industrial practices for creation and measurement have been turned on their head. Who an audience is and what their role should be have shifted thanks to “new” expectations about participation and the possibility of connecting with very large or very tiny groups of people. 

In this talk we’ll engage with how we understand success and popularity when it comes to online video. What shifts to industrial and cultural practice are taking place? Do amateur and professional notions of success align? Should they? 

Joshua Green is vice president of digital strategy at Arnold Worldwide, an advertising agency in Boston. His experience includes developing consumer-facing online and mobile products and helping create the organizational changes to realize them. 

He holds a Ph.D. in media studies from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. He is co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in Network Culture (with Henry Jenkins and Sam Ford, NYU Press 2013) and YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (with Jean Burgess, Polity Press 2009). Josh is a big fan of bicycles, mass transit, and home cooking.

This event is made possible by the Templeton Religion Trust.

"Historical and Contemporary Muslim Engagements with Science," Monday, October 5, 2015, 5:30 p.m.

The Muslim world is currently going through enormous changes. This is not entirely surprising, as more than half the population in the Middle East, and in much of the larger Muslim world, is under the age of 25. This is also the first generation to have been fully affected by the spread of mass education in the region and the global technological revolution of the past two decades. It is therefore not a leap to predict that this generation will interpret Islam and shape its relation to the modern world for decades to come, and that these interpretations will be influenced by global concerns and technological developments.

This panel brings together three eminent scholars from the fields of history of science, Islamic studies, and evolutionary biology to talk about ways Muslims have engaged with the sciences both historically and in the contemporary world. 

Panelist biographies:

  • Dr. George Saliba is professor of Arabic and Islamic science in the department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. Dr. Saliba is considered one of world’s leading authorities on the history of Arabic and Islamic science. He is the author of Late Arabic Scientific Commentaries: Their Role and Their Originality (2014) and Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance (2007).
  • Dr. Asad Ahmed is associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies in the department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Ahmed specializes in early Islamic social history and pre-modern Islamic intellectual history, with a special focus on the rationalist disciplines, such as philosophy, logic, and astronomy. His current focus is the period ca. 1200-1900 CE, especially with reference to the Indian subcontinent. He is the author of The Religious Elite of the Early Islamic Hijaz (2011) and Avicenna’s Deliverance: Logic (2011)
  • Dr. Ehab Abouheif is professor and Canada Research Chair in evolutionary developmental biology in the department of biology at McGill University, Canada. Dr. Abouheif’s primary research focuses on the evolution of ants and his articles have been published in prestigious journals, such as Science. He is also the co-director of the McGill Centre for Islam and Science, and is actively engaged in dialogue about Islam and evolution.
  • Moderator: Dr. Salman Hameed is the director of SSiMS. He is the Charles Taylor Chair and associate professor of integrated science and humanities at Hampshire College. 

This event coincides with the launch of an online portal, designed by SSiMS, that provides a content evaluation of approximately 200 online videos on the topic of Islam and science. The Center’s new website, the Science and Islam Video Portal (www.scienceandislamvideos.com) collects and evaluates videos on natural sciences and Islam. Every video in the portal includes a description and evaluation on three scales: discussion of Islam, of science, and history. Instead of sifting through hundreds of videos, hoping to find material, users may search through curated videos to find those that present the material best. We hope that you will take a look at the site to see how it might be of use to you. We expect to continue adding videos to the database as evaluations continue and new videos are produced. The site includes a featured video that will change each month.

The event and the portal were supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Photographs of the event by May Hemler.

Watch the video here:


2014-2015 School Year Lectures:

“Re-examining the Science-Religion Dichotomy in Medieval Islamic Societies,” by Nahyan Fancy, Thursday, February 26, 2015, 5:30 p.m in Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) Main lecture hall

Abstract: Living in a post-Enlightenment age, historians have struggled to understand the meaningful ways in which science and religion interacted in pre-modern, particularly theistic societies. In the case of Islamic societies, historians have veered from claiming that religion suppressed and stamped out science, to claiming that religion subsumed science under religious dogma. In both cases, religion is seen as blunting the sword of reason, leading to an inevitable "decline" of science. Historians have bought into the Enlightenment idealization of science as a secular, rational pursuit of knowledge that is free from external pressures, particularly those from religion. As I will show, however, such dichotomous understandings of science and religion prevent us from accessing the rich and complex ways in which pre-modern Islamic scholars engaged with rational and revealed knowledge. Using the example of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288), we shall see how a commitment to the sanctity of revelation and specific religious dogmas could still lead one to develop novel scientific theories that themselves forced the scholar to assess and modify certain religious claims. 

Biographical statement: Nahyan Fancy is an associate professor of Middle East/comparative history at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, U.S.A. His research interests are in pre-1500 science, medicine, and intellectual history. His book, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt, examines the intersections of philosophy, theology, and medical physiology in the works of Ibn al-Nafis, a 13th century physician-jurist who first posited the pulmonary transit of blood. The significance of this result is that it forms the basis of William Harvey's (d.  1657) theory of blood circulation, three centuries later. His new project examines the evolution of medical commentaries in post-1250 Islamicate societies, with an eye towards learning more about the specific trajectory of theoretical medicine in Islamicate societies, and the networks of exchange that gave rise to the appropriation of Islamicate trajectories by Latin Europe during the Renaissance. 

"My Quest for Islam and Modern Science: Challenges, Results and Prospects," by Stefano Bigliardi Monday, December 1, 2014, 4 p.m. in Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) East lecture hall

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 Ph.D. in the 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. 

"The Technical Sciences and the Purposes of God: Theory and Practice in the Hizmet Movement in Turkey," by Dr. Caroline Tee. Wednesday, November 19, 2014, noon in the atrium of Adele Simmons Hall (ASH)

Abstract: One of the most influential popular discourses on the relationship of modern science to Islam can be found in the Risale-i Nur (Epistle of Light) of Said Nursi (d. 1960). This paper explores the reception and application of Said Nursi’s philosophy of science in the contemporary Hizmet Movement in Turkey. Particularly, it explores the philosophical justification for engagement as religious actors in the technical sciences, an aspect of modern scientific culture in the Muslim world that is often assumed to be largely pragmatic and economically motivated, and divorced from any religious meaning of its own. This paper challenges that assumption, first by drawing on the text of the Risale-i Nur and the writings of Fethullah Gülen, and second by presenting data from fieldwork carried out in Hizmet scientific and educational communities in Turkey. Primarily, it shows 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 in the field of science research and education, focusing on its emergence as an actor in the lucrative field of private higher education in Turkey in recent years.

Biographical Statement: Dr. Caroline Tee is a postdoctoral research assistant in the department of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Bristol, U.K. She holds an M.A. in Islamic Studies and a Ph.D. in social anthropology. Her work focuses on Islam in modern Turkey, and has included the Alevis as well as, more recently, the Hizmet Movement inspired by Fethullah Gülen. 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. 

"Creating Creationists: Understanding Public Perceptions of Clash Narratives between Evolutionary Science and Belief," Monday, November 3, 2014, 4 p.m.:  Dr. Fern Elsdon-Baker, Coventry University, U.K., author of The Selfish Genius (2009) in Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) East lecture hall

Abstract: Clash narratives relating to evolutionary science and personal belief are a recurrent theme in media or public space discourse. A 2009 British Council poll undertaken in 10 countries worldwide, however, 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 categorization of creationism and evolutionism within large-scale surveys for use within media campaigns. This paper examines the issues framing within four polls conducted in the U.K. 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," figuratively and literally. 

Biographical Statement: Dr. Fern Elsdon-Baker is senior research fellow and principal investigator of the Clash Narratives in Context Project at Coventry University, U.K. She previously worked for the British Council as head of the Darwin Now Project. Darwin Now was a large-scale multimillion 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 U.K. 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 the general committee for the British Science Association.

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