The premodern Muslim thinkers who undertook the task of surveying the entirety of the human experience attempted to account for not only the world of nature, but also the unseen worlds beyond the senses. This presentation examines the roles assigned to the occult sciences in two encyclopedic works composed in the 14th century: the Muqaddima, the famed Arabic introduction to history by the North African scholar Ibn Khaldun, and the Nafa’is al-fonun, a Persian encyclopedia by the Iranian savant Al-Amuli. Both thinkers grappled with the classification of ambiguous examples including dream interpretation, astrology, divination, and the powers of Indian yogis. The presuppositions and implications of their different approaches to classifying the occult are explored as case studies in the engagement between rational discourse and the experience of the supernatural in Muslim contexts.
Carl Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
NYU Abu Dhabi Institute
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