HDS 3340: Communities of Knowledge: Science, Religion and Culture in Medieval Europe and Islam

Instructors: Ahmed Ragab and Katharine Park

How did people understand nature in the Middle Ages? Is “premodern science” a contradiction in terms? What does it mean for science to be “religious”? How did medieval “Western” and “Islamic” civilization differ? Where and in what ways did they interact, and how did knowledge circulate between them?This course offers a new account of the history of medieval science in Europe and the Middle East.  Rejecting the traditional narrative that treats Arabic science only as a “bridge” between the achievements of Greek antiquity and the Scientific Revolution, we will study western Eurasia and northern Africa as a region with a long shared history, unified by the circulation of people, objects, and ideas. In the process, we will call into question the larger conceptual framework opposing “East” (in the sense of Muslim civilization) and “West” (in the sense of Latin Christian civilization).

We will also explore the ways in which the perspectives of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity led their practitioners to emphasize differing aspects of the bodies of knowledge that they jointly inherited from the ancient world.