Back Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge: Beyond the Science and Religion Dialogue

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William C. Chittick
The Recovery of Human Nature


The mythic message of the Koran, when viewed through the lens of the political ideologies and instrumental rationalities that are the backbone of modern education, can easily be interpreted as a systematic program for reforming the human race—and this is the way it is presented by contemporary Islamist movements. If we look back, however, at the Islamic intellectual tradition as represented by the great Muslim philosophers and sages of the near and distant past, we discover a radically different notion of the meaning of the human situation. This intellectual tradition is Islamic, because it is rooted in the basic message of the Koran, as encapsulated in the double testimony of faith, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is God’s prophet.” It is also universal, however, because it focuses on a spiritual anthropology that transcends religious boundaries and employs the language of philosophy and metaphysics.

In the view of the Islamic intellectual tradition, any solution to the crises of our times can only be found in the recovery of our true human nature. This nature, however, cannot be grasped with the tools at the disposal of the modern sciences and academic disciplines, but rather by way of a process self-discovery within the context of an overarching anthropocosmic vision. Perhaps a review of the specifically Islamic reading of the significance of human embodiment can throw some light on our contemporary predicament.

William C. Chittick is professor of religious studies in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, State University of New York, Stony Brook.  Born in Connecticut, he received a BA in history from the College of Wooster (Ohio).  He completed a PhD at Tehran University in the Persian language and its literature, and taught comparative religion and philosophy at Aryamehr Institute of Technology in Tehran.  He left Iran shortly before the revolution, became an editor at the Encyclopedia Iranica at Columbia University, and since 1983 has taught religious studies at Stony Brook.  He has published thirty books and numerous articles on Islamic intellectual history, including Imaginal Worlds:  Ibn al-`Arabī and the Problem of Religious Diversity (State University of New York Press, 1994), The Heart of Islamic Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2001), and Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World (Oneworld, 2007).


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