|Janne Mattila, Post-doctoral researcher
The problem of religious diversity in early Arabic philosophy
My aim is to investigate the ways in which the question of religious plurality is approached in the ’formative period’ of Arabic philosophy (that is, the period up to Avicenna). The philosophical circles of the first Islamic centuries were remarkably diverse in terms of religious persuasion – they were formed of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and even pagans. This de facto religious diversity is reflected to some extent in the writings of the early philosophers of the Islamic world, such as in the theological polemics between Christian and Muslim authors, or in al-ʻĀmirī’s (d. 992) attempt to demonstrate the superiority of Islam over other religions on rational grounds.
One concrete example in which the question of religious plurality arises are the inter-confessional debates organized in the royal and scholarly circles, especially as chronicled in the writings of the philosopher-literate Abu Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī (d. 1023). These debates provide a promising source material for investigating the intellectual interactions and attitudes prevailing between distinct religious confessions of the elite circles of Baghdad. A second example involves the 42nd epistle of the 10th-century anonymous group of philosophical encyclopedists known as the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʼ) in which the authors combine a heresiographical and philosophical approach to account for the genesis and boundaries of religious and doctrinal divergence.