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Theses Doctoral

Making Falsafa in Modern Egypt: Towards a History of Islamic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century

Giordani, Angela Marie

“Making Falsafa in Modern Egypt” is an intellectual and institutional history of a phenomenon in colonial-national Egypt known to participants and observers as the “Islamic philosophy revival.” At the helm of this “revival” was an intellectually and politically diverse group of local scholars—shaykhs trained at Cairo’s venerable al-Azhar mosque-university as well as philosophers and Arabists with doctorates from the Sorbonne and Cambridge—united by a commitment to rehabilitating the legacies of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and other classical masters of the philosophical discipline known in Arabic as falsafa. My dissertation excavates the archive of this little-studied Egyptian revivalist movement to offer a situated intellectual history of the production, diffusion, reading, and uses of the Arabo-Islamic philosophical tradition in modern global thought. In so doing, I begin to address the neglected yet consequential question of how and to what end scholars in the Arabic-speaking regions of the Muslim world studied, taught, interpreted, and otherwise engaged their philosophical heritage in the modern era.

In tracing the efforts of prominent twentieth-century Egyptian philosophers to reconstitute classical falsafa for modern thought and education, I rely on their published scholarship, conference presentations, personal papers, and articles on politics and education as well as archival records from the institutions where they worked and studied. I show that these scholars (re)made their philosophical tradition into a privileged subject and means of reform, taking its revival to be an essential precondition for Arabs’ modern becoming. By writing revisionary histories and building new archives of falsafa, they redefined its disciplinary bounds and canon as understood in Islamic and European scholarly traditions while also presenting novel genealogies of science, reason, and humanism that provincialized Western philosophy and configured its Islamic counterpart as an alternative universalism. As widely-read international scholars who studied and taught at universities across the Middle East and Europe, meanwhile, they played a crucial role in establishing “Islamic philosophy” as an object of international academic inquiry and a “world tradition.” Whereas the modern reconstruction of the Arabo-Islamic philosophical tradition is generally represented as a project internal to Orientalism driven by Europeans, my dissertation recasts this major hermeneutic enterprise as a chapter in the intellectual history of Islam and the Arab world. By tracing the meaning and making of falsafa in colonial-national Egypt through the works of its local revivers, I begin to document the formative role of colonized Arab and Muslim scholars in the global historical processes, networks, and debates that made their philosophical heritage into one of the most widely-studied thought traditions in the contemporary era.

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More About This Work

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Thesis Advisors
Elshakry, Marwa
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 16, 2020