People of the Book: Empire and Social Science in the Islamic Commonwealth Period

Socius 7 (2021)
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Social science is often described as a product of 19th century Europe, and as a handmaiden to its imperial and colonial projects. However, centuries prior to the Western social science enterprise, Islamic imperial scholars developed their own ‘science of society.’ This essay provides an overview of the historical and cultural milieu in which 'Islamic' social science was born, and then charts its development over time through case studies of four seminal scholars -- al-Razi, al-Farabi, al-Biruni and Ibn Khaldun -- who played pivotal roles in establishing fields that could be roughly translated as psychology, political science, anthropology and sociology. The axioms undergirding Islamic social science are subsequently explored, with particular emphasis paid to the relations between said axioms and the discursive tradition, 'Islam.' The essay concludes with an exploration of how looking to social science enterprises beyond the ‘modern’ West can clarify the purported relationships between social science and empire.

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Musa Al-Gharbi
Columbia University


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