Jonathan Lyons

History. Philosophy. Commentary.

Islam, Science, and the West (webinar): Tuesday Diwan, al-Sharq Youth Forum

May 02, 2018 by Jonathan Lyons

Traditional history of science privileges those developments that contributed to our contemporary notion of what is properly scientific while slighting or disregarding altogether others that have been forgotten or abandoned for failing to meet modern needs, requirements, and attitudes. The result is a notion of intellectual and scientific progress in which the stages of historical development, and thus any analytical framework, are defined in advance. This, in turn, determines those ideas, achievements, and theories worthy of historical notice, academic study, and ultimately inclusion in the discourse of modernity. 


What begins as a history of science in reality emerges as a history of Western technological and, ultimately, political and cultural, hegemony. Missing, then, are entire swathes of intellectual achievement, primarily from non-Western societies. The net effect is to reinforce the West’s monopoly claim on the idea of science and, simultaneously, to strengthen the narrative of the relative backwardness or even outright failure of non-Western traditions – Arab, Chinese, Hindu, and others.  This is not only a failing on the part of our intellectual history, but it has serious ramifications for the West’s general approach toward the rest of the world.