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Prof. Nidhal Guessoum, American University of Sharjah, UAE.

Nidhal Guessoum is Professor of Physics and Astronomy and former Associate Dean at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. He received his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at San Diego; and has been a post-doc, a visiting professor or research associate at several world-class institutions (NASA’s GSFC and others). Prof. Guessoum has written extensively on issues of science, education, culture, Islam and the Arab world. He has authored or co-authored several books (most notably Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science – London: I.B. Tauris, 2011) and more than 150 articles (in Arabic, English, and French). He has been interviewed in numerous international media, including Al-Jazeera, BBC, NPR, The Times, France 2, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Fox News, and others. He is a regular columnist for GulfNews, and writes occasionally for other venues. 

Harmonizing Islam & Modern Science: Challenges and Solutions. Science, or more generally knowledge (`ilm), has always occupied a central and high place in the Islamic culture. Numerous Qur’anic verses, hadiths, statements from the tradition, and the entire golden age of the Arab-Islamic civilization attest to that. Many institutions of science/knowledge from that golden age, such as the houses of wisdom and the astronomical observatories, were unique and extraordinary in what they produced and contributed to humanity. But as science in the Islamic world declined to virtual inexistence, a new and potent ‘modern science’ emerged in Europe and spread to the rest of the world over the last few centuries. In this lecture, I will review the nature of this modern science, the fundamental methodologies and principles it poses for the study and understanding of nature, and I will show why this new approach often makes Muslims, particularly traditionalists, uncomfortable.

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Prof. James Piscatori, Australian National University.

James Piscatori
is currently Visiting Professor at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at Australian National University. Previously, he was Professor and Head of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University; Fellow of Wadham College, University of Oxford; Research Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London; and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York. Professor Piscatori is the author of Islam in a World of Nation-States, Islam, Islamists, and the Electoral Principle, and co-author (with Dale F. Eickelman) of Muslim Politics. He is the editor of Islam in the Political Process and co-editor of Monarchies and Nations: Globalisation and Identity in the Arab States of the Gulf. He serves on the editorial boards of various journals, including the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, and Middle East Critique, and has been inducted into the Society of Fellows of the Johns Hopkins University.

The Umma and ‘Ilm: “A Traveller without a Path”? The search for knowledge is often regarded as umma-building:  Islamic solidarity would be enhanced through ‘ilm.   But, rather than cohesion or unity, contestation over who controls ‘ilm often accentuates division and difference. This presentation will draw on the case of Saudi Arabia whereby the ‘ulama criticise both modernists and Salafis for their deviant knowledge and question their credentials to be considered knowledgeable in the first place.  In this view, the umma is weak because knowledge is misappropriated and confused – as one religious scholar has put it, like a traveller without a clear way forward.  In need of attention, therefore, is the connection between ‘ilm and authority, which, in turn, is intimately linked with how ‘Islamic community’ is understood today.

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Prof. Peter Harrison, The University of Queensland.

Peter Harrison
is an Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland. Previously he was the Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford where he also served as Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre. He has published extensively in the area of intellectual history with a focus on the philosophical, scientific and religious thought of the early modern period. He has been a Visiting Fellow at Yale and Princeton, is a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 2011 he delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. Author of over 80 articles and chapters and six books including the recent The Territories of Science and Religion (Chicago, 2015), winner of the 2015 Aldersgate Prize.

Religion and the Rise of Science Revisited. It has long been assumed that the rise of modern science was almost exclusively a European phenomenon and was owing to cultural factors distinctive to the West.  Among these distinctive factors have been religious ideas, practices and institutions. Part of the case for the role of religious ideas involves comparison of the West with Chinese and Islamic civilizations.  I examine arguments for the role of religion in the rise of modern science, including comparative elements, and consider some recent challenges to the Eurocentric accounts of the scientific revolution.

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Dr. Stefano Carboni, Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Stefano Carboni
has been the Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth since October 2008. Previously he was Curator and Administrator in the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Visiting Professor at the Bard Graduate Center in New York. He joined the curatorial staff at the Metropolitan Museum in 1992 after completing his graduate studies in Arabic and in Islamic Art at the University of Venice and his Ph.D. in Islamic Art at the University of London. At The Metropolitan Museum he was responsible for a large number of exhibitions, including the acclaimed Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797 (2006-2007). His publications include authoring and editing several exhibition catalogues, among which is the recent The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting: A Study of the Ilkhanid London Qazvīnī (2015). Stefano has lectured widely and taught regular courses in Islamic Art and Curatorial Studies at the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU), Hunter College (CUNY), and the Bard Graduate Center for the Decorative Arts in New York. He is currently Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia and lectures widely in Islamic Art and Curatorial Studies in addition to all other activities related to his directorship.

A Short History of Images in Islamic Art.  The talk addresses one of the most common misconceptions and differences of opinions about Islamic art, i.e. that it is inherently iconoclastic and no images of living beings are allowed to be represented. This is mostly because the term “Islamic art” is understood by a general audience as an art historical tradition based on religious tenets rather than on diverse cultural, geographical, historical and political occurrences. The talk highlights well-defined religious and secular boundaries within a chronological framework but, importantly, shows how these boundaries were often bridged during specific historical, political and/or cultural moments. The subject of idolatry or heretic images is also addressed under an art historical perspective demonstrating how, in specific periods and places, the depiction of religious figural images was accepted and even embraced by the ruling elite, at the same time showing how a perceived ban on figural representation had a constant presence over time.