Current Institutional Affiliation
PhD Candidate, History, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Columbia University
Reviving Falsafah: Philosophy, Islam and the Making of the Modern Humanities in Twentieth-Century Egypt

In the decades before and after World War II, the Islamic philosophical tradition epitomized by the works of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd and known by the Arabic term 'falsafah' became an object of increasing interest to scholars in Europe, the United States and the Muslim world. Through their collaborative efforts, classical Islamic philosophy came to be widely understood as an integral component of the world philosophical canon, resulting in its incorporation into humanities curricula internationally by the century's end. My dissertation examines the contributions of Arabic-speaking intellectuals to this transnational scholarly enterprise, focusing on a group of Egyptian philosophy professors and their works from the late interwar through post-colonial eras. For these scholars, studying falsafah constituted a revival, as the discipline had been banned in most Arab-Islamic universities since the twelfth century, when Sunni orthodoxy condemned the Muslim philosophers' craft as heresy. From the 1930s through 1960s, newly independent Egypt's first generation of academic philosophers brought falsafah back to Arabic higher education and intellectual culture by building philosophy departments and teaching at national (secular and Islamic) universities, making the falsafah tradition accessible in state archives and annotated volumes, and much more. I examine these scholars' projects through their writings as well as archival records at the primary institutions where they studied, taught and built programs: the Sorbonne, Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque-university, and the Egyptian national universities and archives. Reading their works as key contributions to international debates over Islam, philosophy and their study, I argue that the modern revival of falsafah as a discipline and discourse in Egypt is not an exclusively Arab or Islamic story, but one that connects to and embodies significant changes witnessed internationally in humanities education and research over the post-war era.

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