‘Ilm is a complex, multifaceted Arabic term used in various derivations to denote the many aspects of knowing and knowledge acquisition, production, and dissemination, including teaching and learning, education, and science, as well as comprehension, perception, feeling, experience, and familiarity. From ‘ilm also comes the term ‘ālam,“world,” signifying that the divine act of creation is fundamentally an act of knowing and an expression of knowledge. Through the Qur’an and prophetic traditions, Islam has placed a strong emphasis on ‘ilm, considering the seeking of knowledge to be obligatory on all Muslims. Accordingly, the enterprise of knowing has been central to all aspects of cultural production in Islam, particularly in the fields of science, religion, and the arts. On the one hand, ‘ilm fuses science and religion together into an indissoluble whole, and on the other, it makes art an act of knowledge before being an expression of feeling. Historically, there has been no specific word for “science” in Arabic, and early-modern and modern Arab intellectuals, linguists, reformers, and “scientists” did not coin a new term for it to help delineate the territories of modern science from that of traditional ‘ilm in Arabic thought. The Arabic word ‘ilm (pl. ‘ulūm) has continued to be used to describe both religious and non-religious pursuits of knowledge, that is, the devotional and intellectual engagements with the divine revelation as well as the rational and empirical study of nature. It has also continued to be associated with art (fann), imagination (khayāl), and artistic creativity (ibdā’). As both science and religion have formed the common foundation of artistic production in the Islamic tradition, ‘ilm has acted as a unifying cultural force throughout Islamic history.

‘Ilm: Science, Religion, and Art in Islam presents an opportunity, at the national and international levels, to examine the concept of “knowledge” in Islamic culture in order to explore and generate innovative perspectives on its role in science, religion, and the arts. It invites reflections on and discussions of the idea of ‘ilm and its role in pre-, early-, and post-modern Islamic culture. How is ‘ilm engaged with and experienced by Muslim communities today? What are the practices, territories, and histories of ‘ilm? How does ‘ilm continue to shape Islam’s past, present, and future within the Muslim world and beyond?

‘Ilm: Science, Religion, and Art in Islam will bring together a broad group of scholars, artists, designers, curators, conservators, and higher degree researchers across the fields of Islamic intellectual history, history and theory of Islamic art and architecture, history of Islamic science, and Islamic studies to address key issues of concern and to highlight points of intersection between science, religion, and the arts.

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