Rent this from Deepdyve. Article Options and Tools. Journal Information. ISSN: Online from: Current Issue Available Issues Earlycite. Most read Most cited Related The most popular papers from this title in the past 7 days:. Informing the knowledge workers. Electronic reference services: a quality and satisfaction evaluation. Development of a framework for digital literacy. I really love Plato and Aristotle—I teach them all the time, I love reading them—and I spend as much time reading Plato and Aristotle as I do any other thinkers. There was even more to do when I was in grad school.
Get the weekly Five Books newsletter. Getting into Arabic philosophy was the same idea. I knew that there are books that you can go and read, but I had to learn Arabic for that. So I learnt Arabic. So it was really about trying to find an area in the history of philosophy that needed work. That was my main motivation. In fact, I should say that he has published two very important books that I was tempted to choose. He also published one of the most important books on Avicenna, who we will be getting onto soon.
Tell us about this book and the movement it describes. He and some other scholars had already been working quite a bit on the Greek-Arabic translations. What were they doing?
A Working Description.
What was the social context? Can you tell us a bit about the phenomenon he is exploring? What is the Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement? It was the high point of the ninth century, though it started towards the end of the eighth century and kept going into the tenth century. Here it might help to have in your head that the Islamic empire was huge, but came up against the borders of the Byzantine Empire.
The Byzantines were what was stopping the Islamic empire from spreading West, into the European heartlands. For example, in Syria there was a culture of speaking Greek and also in Egypt. In particular, there were a lot of Christians who preserved the thought of Aristotle and other philosophers in Greek. And, around the beginning of the late eighth century and peaking in the ninth century, you had an enormous investment by the Muslim elite in translating these works into Arabic. Sometimes they translated first from Greek into Syriac, and then from Syriac into Arabic. That shows how important these Syriac Christians were in the process.
What Gutas tried to do was to explain how and why they did this. He actually has some calculations about how much it cost and how much they had to pay translators to do the work. It was fabulously expensive to have these books translated. He also has a lot of information about who the patrons were: who did it and why. Being someone who has an interest in the practical concerns of the Translation Movement, he wanted to know not just how they did it and what they translated—he does talk about that—but he wanted to know what the political motivation was. He gives a complicated answer.
You can accept part of his story without accepting all of it, because he gives several independent reasons why they may have wanted to do it. One that I think is very compelling is that they were basically engaging in cultural competition with the Byzantines. The Byzantines were their main military and political rivals in this period. There was actually quite a bit of warfare between Byzantium and the Islamic world in the ninth century. And now, we, the Muslims, will recapture this original Greek wisdom and do it in a way that the Byzantines are failing to do.
Something else he argues—which I think is more controversial—is that because the Abbasids, the ruling caliphate, were coming into a situation where there was a very powerful Persian-Iranian culture that involved translations, they turned to Greek philosophy as way of showing that they were the political heirs to that culture. This is a very interesting idea, which I personally am persuaded by, though it is admittedly harder to prove.
Then, in addition to that, he points out a lot of the practical benefits that you would have got from the Translation Movement. One thing he mentions, for example, is that both Greek and Indian texts gave them access to astrology. Astrology could legitimate the rule of certain political rulers. Just as an in the Roman Empire you had figures like Augustus turning to astrology to legitimate themselves; the Caliphs did the same thing. Actually, some of these Christians knew Aristotle very well.
So they wanted to have the same kind of logical weaponry that the Christians had access to. He mentions, for example, that one of earliest works to be translated was on dialectical argumentation, for exactly that reason. That does sound really fascinating. Was a side effect of this translation movement the preservation of texts that got lost in the Greek world?
There are no works by Aristotle or Plato, for example, that are extant in Arabic but otherwise lost. Sometimes people say that the Latin medievals got access to certain texts through Arabic. So they had a Latin translation of an Arabic translation of what was perhaps a Syriac translation of the Greek. But then, once they got more interested in Aristotle, they made a concerted effort to start doing translations based on Greek manuscripts. Consider someone like Aristotle, who was translated very extensively into Arabic.
If you lived in tenth century Iraq, you could pretty much read all of the Aristotle we can read. At the time, was there just a single copy of each translation or were they making them to circulate? A translator would make a translation, and then you would hire scribes to copy that. In fact, there is a book called The List —in Arabic, the Fihrist —by a tenth century bookseller who worked in Baghdad. He goes through the translations, telling you who translated what. You can read through that and get a vivid sense that some of the philosophers also made a living by copying the texts that they were working on.
They would charge you a certain amount of money per page, and then it was disseminated. One other interesting thing to mention here is that this sort of dissemination of texts was, in part, possible because these were the first generations that had access to paper rather than parchment. This was a much cheaper and better technology that they got from China. They were able to produce enormous amounts of literature very quickly, in part just because they had this material that they could write on that was a lot cheaper to produce than parchment was.
So, presumably it was out of this intellectual movement that Avicenna emerged as a very significant philosopher in his own right? There are lots of good books on Avicenna. He has worked extensively on natural philosophy, so he covers that quite well. In general, philosophical traditions develop incrementally. If you think, for example, of what Plato and Aristotle did—they effectively rendered the pre-Socratics irrelevant by co-opting their ideas, to the point where their texts are now almost entirely lost.
Or if you think about Plotinus in Late Antiquity, he came up with such a powerful new way of understanding Platonism that it swept away all of the other rival schools: the Stoics died out, the Epicureans died out, the Sceptics died out, and the only thing left was Platonism. For centuries, all the figures after him were Platonists.
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Or maybe a more familiar example would be Kant. You have modern philosophy developing—you have empiricism and rationalism, and so on. And then—bam! I think many analytic philosophers would see the history of philosophy, insofar as it is relevant to them, as beginning with Kant, because everything that came before him was rendered superfluous by the fact that his concepts and agenda set the stage for what came after.
What about Avicenna? He would probably have seen himself as an Aristotelian and his critics saw him that way. He responded to Aristotle in a very intricate way, engaging with all his works. But, at the same time, he was very self-consciously original.
He made lots of very important changes. For example, he made big leaps forward in logic. Support Five Books. Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you're enjoying this interview, please support us by donating a small amount. Boston, Mass.
A fine introduction to the study of Sufism. Translated from the Arabic by Timothy Winter. Cambridge, U. Jong, Frederick De, and Bernd Radtke, eds. Leiden: E. Brill, Knysh, Alexander. Islamic Mysticism: A Short History. Lewis, Franklin. Rumi: Past and Present, East and West. Lewisohn, Leonard, et al. The Heritage of Sufism. A selection of scholarly studies originally published in London in by Khaniqahi Nimatullahi. Lings, Martin. What is Sufism? Berkeley: University of California Press, An insider's view of basic teachings.
Massignon, Louis. Meier, Fritz. Essays on Islamic Piety and Mysticism. Scholarly investigations by one of the most insightful historians of Sufism. Murata, Sachiko. Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light. Murata, Sachiko, and William C. The Vision of Islam. New York Paragon House, The Path of God's Bondsmen.
Translated from the Persian by Hamid Algar. Delmar, N. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, ed. Islamic Spirituality. New York: Crossroad, — An overview of Sufism's teachings and historical vagaries. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, Renard, John.
Historical Dictionary of Sufism. Lanham, Md.
Sufism - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
A handy reference book including a sixty-page bibliography of Western language sources in twenty-one categories. New York: Paulist Press, A fine selection of early texts, translated and introduced. Excellent introduction to the great diversity of Muslim expressions of the quest for God.
Ritter, Helmut. The Ocean of the Soul. Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Sells, Michael, trans. A fine selection of texts.
New Books about Sufism, 2015-2018
Bibliography Awn, Peter J. Edited by Lindsay Jones. Detroit, Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush. Mystics and Commissars: Sufism in the Soviet Union. Berkeley, Gilsenan, Michael. Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt. Oxford, Hoffman-Ladd, Valerie. Sufism, Mystics, and Saints in Modern Egypt. Columbia, Jong, F.
Leiden, Careful and detailed discussion of Egyptian orders and their relations with the state. A comprehensive presentation with emphasis on the earlier centuries, using many important articles from the Encyclopaedia of Islam. Lewisohn, Leonard. Sympathetic presentation showing the basis for the continuing appeal of Sufism in the modern era.
Malik, Jamal, and John Hinnells, eds. Sufism in the West. London and New York, A wide-ranging collection of essays by many of the major scholars doing research on the subject of Sufism in Western Europe and North America. Albany, N. Martin, B. Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth-Century Africa.
Cambridge, Well-documented study of major African activist orders in their historical context. Gibb and J. Kramers, pp. An old but still useful summary of the development of the orders, with a long descriptive list. Netton, Ian Richard. Richmond, Surrey, London and Evanston, Ill. Rahman, Fazlur. Chicago, This excellent introduction to Islam provides a helpful summary of Sufi beliefs and of the development of the orders. Chapel Hill, N. Sound and readable presentation of the full range of issues related to understanding Sufism.
Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Helpful interpretation giving special attention to the role of the orders in South Asia. Sedgewick, Mark J. Sufism: The Essentials. Cairo, A helpful summary of the theological and historical dimensions of Sufism. Trimingham, J. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford, ; reprint, New York, London, Bibliography Abbas, Shemeem Burney. Austin, Tex. Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. New York, Blackman, W. Detailed ethnography of the Upper Egyptian peasants in the early decades of the twentieth century, with special reference to their folk beliefs and practices.
Descriptions of Muslim saints as well as those of the Copts and mawlid feasts are included. Canaan, Tewfik. Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestine. Jerusalem, Detailed reports on the folk practices of the veneration of Muslim saints in Palestine before the establishment of Israel. Cornell, Vincent J.
6 Of The Best Islamic History Books To Broaden Your Understanding
Crapanzano, Vincent. Berkeley and Los Angeles, Daly, M. Khartoum and London, Eickelman, Dale F. Moroccan Islam. Austin and London, One of the best anthropological works on maraboutism. His Knowledge and Power in Morocco Princeton, contains a case study of the critical attitude of a reform-minded student to traditional maraboutism in the first half of the twentieth century. Ernst, Carl F. Geertz, Clifford. Islam Observed.