NEW Thematic Reading Pathway: The Islamic Golden Age: Philosophy and Poetry of the Abbasid Era
Introductory Offer: Try the first seminar for FREE
Day and Time: Tuesdays 8-9:30 pm EST, 7-8:30 Central, 6-7:30 Mountain, 5-6:30 Pacific
Course duration: April 18th-January 2nd 2024
Duration: 1.5 Hours
Average Weekly Reading: 10 pages. SHORT selections, promotes greater quality attention to the content of the reading during each session’s conversation.
Nature of Course: Thematic Reading Survey Course. This course offers rich selections of many authors in philosophy and poetry of the Islamic Golden Age. See list below. (Note: this course is not a slow reading study of a single author, but nevertheless keeps to the principle of ‘short but deep’ selections each week.)
Mode of Instruction: Purposive conversational reading or Socratic seminar, not lecture. Allows participants to meet the material where they are, according to their own questions and experience.
Who this Course is for: Anyone interested in reading and talking about works in the Islamic tradition. All those who want to get the “lay of the land” of the whole territory of this tradition, before possibly delving more deeply into a single work. No prior knowledge of the Islamic Golden Age is required to join.
Course Description: When Muhammad died in 632 CE, his first successors, seeking to keep the Arabs united, found purpose in rapid military expansion. In the next 120 years, as the caliphate became single-family rule under the Umayyads, the Arabs quickly conquered Persia, the southern Byzantine empire, and all of northern Africa and Spain. But the Muslim converts in these conquered lands found themselves discontented with their detached Arab rulers. In 750, a coalition of dissidents led the Abbasid Revolution, establishing a dynasty of caliphs that would rule from their new city of Baghdad until 1258.
The Abbasid Dynasty’s scholastic achievements are among the great intellectual monuments of world history. They built vast libraries, and spearheaded an unparalleled project to translate every known ancient Greek work into Arabic. Over the centuries, this scholarship gave birth to a major school of philosophy – and a great body of poetry in both Arabic and Persian.
In this Thematic Reading Pathway, we’ll be journeying through the five centuries of the Abbasid era exploring these two dimensions of what is often called the Golden Age of Islam: poetry and philosophy. This course does not focus on the study of single work, as in our slow reading program, but will involve close reading of selections of texts from a wide variety of great books in the Islamic world from the great Abassid era – from the Quran itself to the poetry of Rumi, from the tales of the Thousand and One Nights to the intellectual autobiographies of Avicenna and al-Ghazali, from Jewish thinkers like Judah Halevi and Maimonides to the great Persian epic, Ferdowsi’s Shahmameh, the Book of Kings. We are building a certain kind of conversation that involves all of these works and authors. Having deeply encountered selections of the works, students will walk away from this survey reading pathway with a strong sense of the ‘lay of the land’ – so that should they want to dive into one work more deeply thoroughly, as we do in the slow reading program, they will be ready to do so.
Selections from the following texts and authors will be covered:
- The Quran
- The Hadith
- Abu Nuwas [756-814]
- Al-Kindi [801-873]
- Al-Hallaj [858-922]
- Al-Razi [864-935]
- al-Farabi [872-950]
- Al-Mutanabbi [915-965]
- Ferdowsi [940-1025]
- ibn Sina (Avicenna) [980-1037]
- Al-Ma’arri [973-1057]
- al-Ghazali [1005-1111]
- ibn Paquda [1050-1120]
- Al-Hariri [1054-1122]
- bn Bajja (Avempace) [1085-1138]
- ibn Tufayl [1105-1185]
- Suhrawardi [1154-1191]
- ibn Rushd (Averroes) [1126-1198]
- Maimonides [1138-1204]
- ibn Arabi [1165-1240]
- ibn al-Sa’i [1197-1276]
- The Anonymous Author of the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’
- Rumi [1207-1273]
On the instructor:
Jeff Johnston is a pioneering member of the Symposium’s slow reading program (on Plato’s Laws), has led a year-long slow-reading study of al-Farabi at Symposium, and is also a co-leader for the Shakespeare Sonnets slow reading pathway. Jeff has a B.A. from St. John’s College, and did his graduate work in Political Science at Boston College, concentrating on Medieval thought, with a Master’s Thesis on al-Ghazali.
“In my view, in order to obtain a true perspective on the western tradition, it is necessary to explore a tradition that has been separately constructed. The medieval Islamic tradition is one of these (albeit with some interesting cross-fertilization at certain stages).” -Richard Perruso