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Soulful Contentions: Debates on the Soul in Post-Avicennian Islamic Thought
Monday, February 4, 2019

What am I? Am I only the sum of my physical parts, or is there an intangible, essential aspect of myself that survives the death of my body? If there is a soul, then what is its relation to my body, and what can it experience when disembodied after death? The question of the nature of the human being, and thus her relation to the divine, was at the center of philosophical and theological discussions of the medieval Islamic world. With the Muslim theologians al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210), we witness what has been termed the “Avicennian turn” in Ashʿarite theology. These thinkers, who have often been wrongly censured as the very theologians who stifled the Islamic philosophical movement (al-falsafa), engaged with the falsafa tradition so deeply that their own theology was fundamentally transformed by it.This talk will begin with a discussion of the understanding of the human being as developed in mainstream Islamic theology, then turn to al-Ghazālī and particularly Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s engagement with the philosophy of Avicenna (d. 1037) and the fundamental shift that they introduced into Islamic theology with their acceptance of the existence of a noncorporeal soul (al-nafs). With an examination of the development of the concept of the soul in Islamic philosophy and theology, we also find ourselves challenging the very paradigm that held that orthodox theologians dealt a death blow to the falsafa movement in the 12th century. Instead, we witness that Islamic philosophy continued to thrive not only through a rich commentary tradition but also as it was absorbed and transformed in Islamic theological and mystical trends.

Time: 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Location: Olin, Room 102
Sponsor: Dean of the College; Religion Program
Contact: Richard Davis.
Phone: 845-758-7364

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