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Writing the History of the Natural Sciences in the Pre-modern Muslim World: Historiography, Religion, and the Importance of the Early Modern Period

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Abstract

In recent years, the subject of science in the Muslim World in the pre-modern period has largely been discussed in the context of two master narratives: (1) how and to what extent did Muslim scholarship influence European intellectual history, and (2) the nature of the decline of science and intellectual life in general in the Muslim world during the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods. This essay moves beyond these two narratives by first summarizing the history of European studies of science in the Muslim world. It then draws upon recent developments in Europeanist history of science and outstanding work by historians of Islamicate science to stress the importance of avoiding Whiggish readings of the history of the natural sciences in the Muslim world as well as the necessity for situating the same sciences in relation to developments in theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, and mysticism.

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