IMC 2015: Sessions

Session 199: Special Lecture: Reforming Islam at the Turn to the 6th/12th Century: Al-Ghazali's Project of Reviving Religion through Aristotelianism and Mysticism

Monday 6 July 2015, 13.00-14.00

Introduction:Steven Vanderputten, Vakgroep Geschiedenis, Universiteit Gent
Speaker:Frank Griffel, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University

A well-reported saying of the Prophet Muhammad predicts that God will send a ‘reviver’ of Islam at the beginning of each century. In the year 500 of the Muslim calendar (equivalent to 1105 CE), al-Ghazali claimed to be the reviver of the 6th century. By that time al-Ghazali lived secluded, as he put it, at his birthplace in northeast Iran where he surrounded himself with just a few faithful students. Earlier in his life he had already risen to the most respected teaching position in the new system of state-sponsored madrasa-education only to publicly renounce it and to break his ties with the ruling Seljuq elite. In 1105, however, al-Ghazali returned into the spotlight by again accepting a prominent teaching post at a Seljuq madrasa. What he taught there stirred unrest among the established scholars who tried to use their influence and have him removed. Al-Ghazali’s teachings in such fields as theology, philosophy, ethics, and Sufism mark the transition from the period of classical Islamic theology and philosophy to a post-classical period. Severely criticizing the religious scholars and the philosophers of his day, al-Ghazali aimed at reviving and reforming all the ‘religious knowledge’ (‘ulum al-din) of Islam.

Al-Ghazali’s reform project differed from many before and after in Islam in that it refers only cursory to the religions’ founding period and the example of the Prophet and his companions. Its main inspiration comes from two corners: the Aristotelian tradition in Islam, i.e. falsafa, and Sufism. Al-Ghazali’s reform focused on the promotion of a rationalist Muslim theology, of Sufi piety and Aristotelian virtue ethics, as well as on the prominent role of Sufi masters. Its success can be seen in many features of post-classical Muslim societies.

Please note that admission to this event will be on a first-come, first-served basis as there will be no tickets for the event. Please ensure that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disappointment.