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 Why did Europe rise while islam declined?

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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Why did Europe rise while islam declined?   Thu 21 Mar 2013, 22:00

http://historum.com/general-history/54476-why-did-europe-rise-while-islam-declined.html
I followed already the whole thread and wanted to add a reply to message 78. I wanted to fully agree with Ayazid and say it was essentially that what I had learned during my research for several French fora and an English one from the BBC. I did the follow up on the French fora and the BBC but before I could reply the thread was rightly closed because it started to be vitriolic...
Since I did the research 2008, 2009 on French fora and the BBC one it seems still not possible to start an honest discussion about this subject and bringing it to a good end...or perhaps one exception......our discussion on the BBC...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbhistory/NF2233809?thread=5642487&skip=0
As I did already all that work I thought I can perhaps discuss it further on these board...for those who understand French I can add the French links too...
Yes...sigh...there seems not to be that much changed from opposite extremist attitudes in the last five years...although in my opinion...the historical relevance of what for instance Ayazid says in his message 78 is now since the last years a lot more evident and uncontested...
Kind regards, Paul.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Why did Europe rise while islam declined?   Sun 24 Mar 2013, 14:59

I would not like to see a discussion started here with the opening question phrased as it is. Both appellations used are based on assumptions regarding identity which are not complementary in any meaningful sense and therefore what is presented is a false dichotomy. The evidence of this is in the conduct of certain individuals on the thread to which you have linked, one that was correctly closed by a moderator since the flaw in the original premise of the discussion simply opened the door to any lunatic or ignorant interpretation, and enough people duly obliged in that respect.

Your link to your own thread from the old BBC board reveals much the same - the conversation quite quickly derailed into verbose but meaningless interpolations by some contributors and totally irrelevant ones by others.

A discussion concerning the fostering of scientific knowledge and its contingent ideologies and philosophies within areas governed by Muslim rulers at a time when such systematic protection of lore was noticeable by its absence elsewhere is almost guaranteed to invite participants to take exaggerated stances concerning each premise. The truth, as ever, is less facilitating to such extreme views, however seductive they might appear to be to certain individuals to adopt them. Nurturing of scientific debate and exploration was not uniform at the height of the Caliphates throughout the regions they controlled. Some areas under their control which had long valued scientific and philosophical pursuits within their culture continued in that vein with local patronage and approval from the authorities. Some which did not have that tradition became comparable due to similar support (Fez, in Morocco, for example). Others however lost such status under Muslim rule.

By the same score "Europe" during the same period developed just as unevenly. Divorced from several ancient seats of learning with the final collapse of Roman hegemony and the subsequent isolationism and then shrinking of the Eastern Empire, it is not surprising that the development of intellectual endeavours took a dive in some places and underwent a fundamental transformation in character and scope in others. But there are many examples of resurgence and even continuity of state-protected areas where learning and discovery could be undertaken to a point where they could still be reckoned as endemic features of the local culture. They might have been few, but they were no less important for that - Ravenna, for example, springs to mind immediately but there are less well appreciated centres from Cashel in Ireland to Krakow in Poland (and many places in between) where education was taken as seriously as in any Caliphate equivalent.

When the original question posits a "decline" it invites us to suppose that "Islam" somehow took its eye off the ball with regard to the pursuit of knowledge at one point while "Europe" did not. This would be to ignore the manner in which knowledge itself was regarded and imparted in the period up to the 11th century - in both Muslim and Christian societies a pursuit inextricably linked to religious instruction. It wasn't until the establishment of an institution in Bologna which intentionally set itself aside from overt religious affiliation (and first coined the term "university" on that basis) that one could even begin to imagine a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, at least in Europe. Byzantium and the great Caliphates of the same period resisted this development strongly, indeed one could argue that the fractious and highly divided politics of the rest of Europe was ultimately what allowed the development to take place at all.

This is the only sense in which I can imagine a "rise" or "decline" being used to describe the relative fortunes of science without and within the Muslim territories. But yet it is contingent on particular and almost accidental convergence of circumstances and exigencies, not indicative of overriding political policies, and even less indicative of any one culture's superiority or inferiority to another. In fact in one sense it simply serves to emphasise the failure on "western civilisation's" part to impose any cogent and beneficial policy designed to encourage and place a value on scientific knowledge. Where it happened as a new development it was as much happenstance as planned.

Universities in Europe were to enjoy a rather mixed relationship with their political masters for much of their first few centuries of existence, and were viewed with as much mistrust as any madrasah which might sow seeds of dissent or sedition in the Muslim equivalent. With the consolidation of power under the Ottomans it can be argued that the authorities had more suceess in suppressing these sources of potential resistance - to the detriment of education - and that this led to intellectual stagnation in many respects within the cultures they administrated. This is simplistic, but broadly accurate. However that is not to imply that in the rest of Europe the opposite pertained on the part of political leaders. Political diversity was the chief protector of the trend towards university-led education, not concerted policy.

I prefer therefore to take the continuity of intellectual pursuit in its broadest sense before attempting to pass judgement on any one political or religious system for disruption in its progress. It can be the beneficiary temporarily of certain systems' protective measures, but its survival has never been down to one such intervention, and its overall progress has been despite the many such systems' rises and declines along the way, not because of them.
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Why did Europe rise while islam declined?   Mon 25 Mar 2013, 21:57

Thank you very much for your comments Nordmann.

"I prefer therefore to take the continuity of intellectual pursuit in its broadest sense before attempting to pass judgement on any one political or religious system for disruption in its progress. It can be the beneficiary temporarily of certain systems' protective measures, but its survival has never been down to one such intervention, and its overall progress has been despite the many such systems' rises and declines along the way, not because of them."

Can we reiterate then again the question by the formulation:
How has the intellectual inquiry of knowledge progressed (inevitable) during time? And what were the factors stimulating or inhibiting the process?

Some preliminary thoughts:
I said "inevitable"? because in my opinion what I learned from history was that intellectual inquiry of knowledge is inherent to the human nature and perhaps already present with the higher mammals?
And I think to learn also from history that freedom of thinking not restricted by any kind of dogmatism is also a key to the stimulation of new ideas that let progress knowledge? And there you have a point: some circumstances are favourable for such a process as you mentioned (and it was also one of my arguments) that by the competing emmerging nation states in Europe one intellectual could always move from one more restricting nation to a lesser dogmatic one. For instance the save haven from the Dutch republic during its highdays...even nowadays one can see in my opinion that stimuli in the world come from free minded areas as for instance California?
"It can be the beneficiary temporarily of certain systems' protective measures, but its survival has never been down to one such intervention, and its overall progress has been despite the many such systems' rises and declines along the way, not because of them"
I don't fully agree with that sentence, or perhaps one has to nuance it a little bit. And I follow there about this question a French contributor (who is from his history on the forum is defending the Roman-Catholic culture), who said that the Catholic church not only inhibited the inquiry of knowledge but at the same time provided a stimulating frame wherein the inquiry of science could develop. Thus not always "despite" such dogmatic "systems" (and I see that in the broad sense, as for instance a dogmatic Chinese central state) but also "because" the frame that those dogmatic central entities by their stabylizing efect provided, could also have a stimulating effect.

Kind regards and with esteem,
Paul.
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