[P6504] Epistemological Challenges in Islamic Thought

Created by Sarah Azmeh
Tuesday, 11/30/21 2:00 pm


Knowledge has been central to Islamic civilization and identity from the beginning, but how knowledge is to be acquired and used has often been contested.

The first paper sets the scene by examining medieval Islamic thought about education. A small set of medieval texts dealt with the methods and practices in religious education. While they do not lay out an explicit pedagogical theory, they are clear that the fundamental purpose of education is tawhid, monotheism, as the foundation of moral principles guiding the student’s later life. With the growth of modern Islamic education, these issues have acquired new salience.

The second period deals with al-Juwayni’s role in the transformation of Islamic theology that began at the end of the 11th century. By then, legal methodology, usul al-fiqh, had reached a level of sophisticated maturity while Kalam still employed rhetorical arguments. Juwayni saw the need to place Kalam on a sound metaphysical basis, delineating the respective realms of the intellect and revelation. This paved the way for the massive compendia of the next few centuries with their detailed engagement with philosophical and epistemological questions.

The third paper deals with the challenge faced by the early Sufi theorists of the 9th and 10th centuries as they struggled to get Sufism accepted as a legitimate Islamic science whose characteristic method—kashf or personal inspiration—produced true Islamic knowledge. Their response was to argue that Sufi epistemology had the characteristics necessary to establish it as a legitimate science.

The final paper deals with a notorious epistemological clash in the 20th century engendered by Taha Husayn’s notorious attack on the authenticity of pre-Islamic poetry. Using the example of a Tunisian Islamic scholar who later became the rector of al-Azhar, this paper argues that the responses by Islamic scholars were not simply ignorant defenses of traditional knowledge against Western modernity but, in this case at least, nuanced attempts to reconcile traditional and Western methods.


Rel Stds/Theo; Rel Stds/Theo



Sarah Azmeh

(Indiana University Bloomington)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Yasemin Kole

(Indiana University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Derya Dogan

(Indiana University - Bloomington)
I double-major in Education Policy Studies with a concentration in International and Comparative Education and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures with a concentration in Middle Eastern History & Politics at Indiana University-Bloomington. My research...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Recep Erkmen

(New York University)
Recep Erkmen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. His research interests revolve primarily around the 12th and 13th centuries of Islamic thought. He has been working on Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s rational ...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;