Professor Al-Azmeh, Professor in the School of Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies, Central European University, Budapest, gives a talk for the Cantemir Institute.
The purpose of the lecture is to inform; to highlight elements pertaining to humanist freethinking in the Abbasid era, to relate these to an overarching history of humanist freethinking with classical antecedents and later workings in early modern Europe, no less than to their milieus of emergence and to what some might still think of as an early Muslim orthodoxy. In so doing, this lecture will seek to redress a number of imbalances in perspective, and a number of misconceptions. Of these, the idea that Abbasid freethinking was an aberrant curiosity in a milieu which was, in essence, 'orthodox,' is a resilient one. So also is underestimating the Fortleben of ideas generated in the Abbasid milieu in early European modernity. The lecture is intended to inform and sketch a very general picture of this little-known chapter in history. The suggestion made in conclusion is that a model for the historical interpretation of Arab freethinking based upon the introverted model of pre-Humanist European history, or that of contemporary Muslim, protestantised pietism, is clearly anachronistic.