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Renaissance in the Muslim East

DFG Approves Grant for Research Unit at Freie Universität on Intellectual History of the Islamicate World

№ 337/2013 from Nov 04, 2013

The Intellectual History of the Islamicate World Research Unit at Freie Universität Berlin was granted a 750,000-euro Reinhart Koselleck Research Grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the project entitled "The Other Renaissance: Greek Philosophy under the Safavids (16th-18th centuries CE)." Under the direction of the professor of Islamic studies Sabine Schmidtke, the researchers will explore the emergence of a new philosophical trend among Muslim thinkers of the 16th to 18th centuries that led to the revival of earlier classical works of Greek and neo-Platonic philosophy. Through the Reinhart Koselleck Research Funding Program the DFG supports outstanding researchers with a proven academic track record to pursue exceptionally innovative, higher-risk projects over a five-year funding period.

The work of the Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina, better known by his Latin name "Avicenna" (ca. 980-1037), began a new chapter in the history of Islamic philosophy that shaped the following centuries. Particularly in the eastern part of the Islamic world, Avicenna's work long served as the standard of reference for both philosophy and science. Toward the end of the 15th century, however, thinkers in Iran increasingly began turning to writings that had been suppressed during the previous centuries. There was fresh interest in early Arabic translations of Greek texts, the so-called Graeco-Arabica. The Neo-Platonic philosophy of earlier Muslim and Christian authors of the ninth to eleventh centuries who had worked before Avicenna began to draw more attention. The representatives of this new trend exhibited tendencies similar to the attitudes held by philosophers of the European Renaissance.

Research on this development in the entire eastern part of the Islamic world with Iran as the center has to date been barely tapped. The DFG-funded project "Renaissance in the East" is intended as a model for present and future development of the subject. In successive project phases the researchers will systematically explore the similarities and differences between the two eras. The first step will be to compile a database recording the relevant manuscripts of Iranian, Indian, and Turkish libraries and providing descriptions and analyses. In the second phase detailed studies will be made of different reviews of selected major works of Graeco-Arabica. Finally, the writings of selected Iranian philosophers of the late Safavid period will be examined with regard to what extent the revival of the Graeco-Arabic tradition influenced earlier Arabic philosophers of this era.

With the Reinhart Koselleck Programme the DFG supports projects that do not receive other funding. The program is named in honor of Reinhart Koselleck, one of the most important German historians of the 20th century and one of the founders of modern social history. Koselleck passed away in 2006.

Sabine Schmidtke is a professor of Islamic studies and the director of the Research Unit Intellectual History of the Islamicate World at Freie Universität Berlin. She is a co-founder and coordinator of the Muʿtazilite Manuscripts Group (founded in 2003). She has written and edited numerous publications on Islamic and Jewish intellectual history. Schmidtke has been awarded several international prizes and fellowships and recently was granted a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Research Grant for the project "Rediscovering Theological Rationalism in the Medieval World of Islam."

The aim of the researchers in the Research Unit Intellectual History of the Islamicate World, which was founded in 2011, is to overcome disciplinary boundaries and to replace old patterns of thinking through unconventional collaborations. Muslim and non-Muslim scholars from different disciplines and cultures have come together at Freie Universität Berlin to work closely with colleagues and research institutions in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. With this interdisciplinary approach the researchers take into account the plurality of rational thinking and centuries of cross-border philosophy and scholarship. Historically, this phenomenon is based on interaction between Jews, Christians, and Muslims: for centuries representatives of all three of these religions shared a common language, namely Arabic, by which they exchanged ideas, concepts, and texts.

Further Information

Prof. Dr. Sabine Schmidtke, Research Unit Intellectual History of the Islamicate World, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-52487, Email: