SCT Course

SCT Summer Course (at Cornell)

Syllabus and Reading List

Course Description

        Divided over 12 units during six weeks, this course will address how the meaning and use of Reason evolved in Arab/Islamic culture since the advent of the Qur'an. While salient vibrant features in this meaning and use will be highlighted as these were manifested in the different schools and traditions over the years, the questions that will ultimately require to be addressed have to do with Reason's apparently inert state today (in the Arab World) as well as with the traditional Reason's failure to develop its independent moral precepts, arguably leaving us with some of the destructive consequences we are presently witnessing (e.g. ISIS).
Participants will thus be introduced in the first five weeks to the evolution in the classical period of different schools (e.g. kalam, fiqh, language, falsafah ) as well as of ideas (e.g., freedom of the will, epistemology, logic, moral values); and will finally look in the sixth week into revivalist attempts by contemporary writers to infuse life once again into Reason, whether religious or secular.

Two kinds of readings have been identified for use in this course: general background material in the form of books to be bought or which are available in the library (e.g., The Qur'an in translation), and which can be read at the participant's own pace and choice; as well as articles and book chapters that will be more directly relevant to the study units being discussed in different sessions. These will be uploaded on the Blackboard. Also, a full list of the reading materials will be posted on my website ( at the end of May.
         As the nature of the sessions will be weighted in favor of discussions, it is expected that participants will have read the relevant material for the topic to be discussed in a specific unit in advance of the session.
Participants are welcome to develop an idea and produce a paper on it by the end of the term or at any time during it. They are also welcome by prior arrangement to ‘air' their proposed idea during one of the sessions, should they wish to elicit comments from their peers. I will be holding two office hours during the week, and will be available for appointments by special arrangement. I can also be reached by email on عنوان البريد الإلكتروني هذا محمي من روبوتات السبام. يجب عليك تفعيل الجافاسكربت لرؤيته..

Outline of the Sessions

(subject to possible minor adjustments)

Week 1:

•  The Qur'an: What are the circumstances that made the Qur'an a propellant intellectual force? Content and Context.

•  Intellectual Stirrings: Early Polemics. Justness of Resistance. Revelational authority and common-sense. Freedom and Responsibility. Tablet or Text?

Week 2:

A. Schools: What are the different schools of thought that evolved out of those initial debates? How did they evolve over time? When and how did these begin to peter out?

•  Language as ‘road-map': Traditional sciences. Language–in-use versus imported terms. Logicians and linguists.

Week 3:

A. Epistemology: How is our knowledge acquired? What is the status of logical principles? Of sense-data? Principles and Methods

B. Nature: How did thinkers/schools of thought view the cosmos? What is it made of? How does it fit together? Matter. Atoms. Substances. Attributes.

Week 4:

A. Morality: Sources. Are moral values natural? Are there basic moral principles? How is ‘an ethic of conduct' extracted from principles? What is the jurists' methodology? Analogical and Syllogistic reasoning.

•  Politics: Succession, Governance: How is a ruler to be identified? What is a best political regime? Are religion and state separable?

Week 5:

•  Key Issues: Necessary and Posssible.

•  Key Issues: Being and Seeing.

Week 6:

•  Renaissance: Are the ‘classical' questions now irrelevant? What have contemporary thinkers been engaged in? How have they been received?

•  Language and Thought: How influential is language on thought? How ‘mature' is spoken Arabic?



(Background Readings: these will be supplemented by extracts and articles to be provided online).
(1) 9780674777569. Bowersock, G.W. Roman Arabia ,( Harvard University Press, 1994). Recommended.
(2) 9780140455441. Khalidi, K. The Qur'an. (Penguin Classics, 2009). Recommended.
(3) 9780070226753. Gabrieli, F. Muhammad and the Conquests of Islam , (McGraw Hill, 1968). Required.
(4) * 9781616403409. Nicholson, R.A. A Literary History of the Arabs, (Cosimo Classics, 2010). Required.
(5) * 9780231132213. Fakhry,M. A History of Islamic Philosophy, (Columbia University Press. 3 rd .ed, 2004). Required.
(6) 9781586488130. Ansary,T. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, (Public Affairs, 2010). Required.
(7) 9780521274234. Hourani, A. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798-1939, (Cambridge University Press, 1983). Recommended.
(8) 9780312238971. Haeri, N. Sacred Language, Ordinary People: Dilemma of Culture and Politics in Egypt, (Palgrave McMillan, 2003). Recommended.
P.S. I would like all recommended titles to be placed ‘on reserve' at the library. If any of them is not available at the library then students should be requested to buy them.
(B) Selected Chapters
  • Ignaz Goldziher, "The Growth and Development of Dogmatic Theology," from Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law , translated by Andras Hamori & Ruth Hamori (Princeton University Press 1981) pp. 66-115 [49 pages] ISBN: 0-691-10099-3
  •   Sari Nusseibeh, "Epistemology ," from History of Islamic Philosophy Part || , Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman ( Routledge, first published 1996) pp. 824-840 [16 pages] ISBN: 0-415-13160-x
  •   Shukri B. Abed, "Language", op.cit pp. 898-925 [ 27 pages]
  • Norman Calder, "Law" , op.cit pp. 979-998 [ 19 pages]
  • G.E Von Grunebaum (ed), " Drink and the Drinker ",from The Life and Works of Jahiz , ( London, & Kegan Paul , first published in English 1969) a volume in the Islamic World Series, pp 52-53 [1 pages] SBN: 7100 6539 6
  • G.E Von Grunebaum (ed), "Justification of NABIDH " op.cit pp. 54-55 [ 1 pages]
  • Oliver Leaman,"Introduction", from An Introduction to Medieval Islamic Philosophy , (Cambridge University Press, 1985) pp 1-21 [20 pages] ISBN: 0-521-28911-4
  • Oliver Leaman, "How to read Islamic Philosophy", op.cit pp. 182-201 [ 19 pages]
  • Harry Austryn Wolfson , "MODES", from The Philosophy of the KALAM , (Harvard University Press , 1976 ) pp. 147-204 [57 pages] ISBN: 0-674-66850-5



  •   Abu Bakr Naji, The Management of Savagery, (The John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, 2006), Translated by William McCants.
  • Mahdi, Muhsin, "Language and Logic in Classical Islam", from Logic in Classical Islamic Culture , G.E. von Grunebaum(ed),(OHO Harrasowitz-Wiesbaden,1970) pp 51-83 [ 32pages]


  • Robert Brunschvig, "Logic and Law in Classical Islam", op.cit pp. 9-20 [11 pages]
  • Josef van Ess, "The Logical Structure of Islamic Theology " op.cit pp. 21-47 [ 26 pages]
  • Ali Abdel Razek, Islam and the Foundations of Political Power , Abdou Filali-Ansary (ed), Maryam Loutfi (Translator) (EUP, 2012) .


  • Louis Gardet, "Religion and Culture", in The Cambridge History of Islam , (Cambridge University Press Volume 2 , 1970) Edited by: P. M. Holt , Ann K. S. Lambton , Bernard Lewis

(C) Articles




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