I'll come back to the previous days and the closing session later (in which we were entertained with a ramble through the totality of modern 'western' thought with a special interest in Freud it seemed with a simple take home message - I know your intellectual traditions but you fail to know me - unless you are an orientalist).
The first session was rather scholarly - Reshid Hafizovic from Bosnia gave an excellent paper on poesis within the narrative of the prophetic ascension and spoke lucidly about the need for a mythopoeic approach to thought. This was followed by Miklos Maroth's exposition of Avicenna's Topica, a response to Aristotle and a demarcation of the lines between demonstrative approaches to theoretical science and the practices of dialectic and rhetoric and their roles in ancient thought. This was the second of a couple of papers on Avicenna's logic, the other being Wilferd Hodges (emeritus professor of logic at London and now one of our regional neighbours with an interest in the Arab tradition). The final paper on this panel was my own attempt to think about how we understand philosophy and whether hikmat is more than philosophy, juxtaposing the late Pierre Hadot's readings of ancient thought with Mulla Sadra. This is the abstract:
Philosophy as a way of life in the world of Islam: applying Hadot to the study of Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1635)
Embarking on my doctoral studies on the thought of the Iranian Safavid thinker Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1635), I found myself stumped with a basic question of methodology: how do I make sense of his thought which is so removed from the categories and approaches to philosophy of our own time? Reading the existing secondary literature did not help much; confusion was a basic state of response. What was Mullā Ṣadrā’s thought and the nature of his contribution to Islamic intellectual history? How should we understand what he intended by the term ḥikma(t) often rendered as philosophy? Should we even consider him to be merely a ‘philosopher’? Does our description of him as a philosopher diminish his role of thinker, teacher, and exegete? Are our tastes in Islamic philosophy condemned to following fashions in the wider history of philosophy? What did he understand by the concept of philosophy? The basic problem arises out of how we understand philosophy in contemporary thought.
One way out of this impasse was the chance discovery of the work of the late Pierre Hadot on ancient thought. Hadot’s categorisation and conceptualisation of philosophy seems to fit much better into a paradigm that is useful for the study of later Islamic philosophy. In this paper, I critically examine the key insights of Hadot to one’s reading and understanding of philosophy and consider to what extent it is a key to making sense of what ḥikmat is for Mullā Ṣadrā.
Well received I think - had various people come up to me and I sustained conversations is my rather bad persian for the next couple of hours (!). Finally relented and gave a couple of interviews (avoided before and after) - with Radio Ma'arif. Although it was somewhat disturbing to find that instead of question about practice of philosophising as ethics, I was asked how one distinguishes between true and false religious traditions - which I tried to avoid. And the questions seemed quite different - asked about the tafkikis, I said they were philosophical despite themselves and that the so-called clash between religion and philosophy depends on how one reads and understands the two. I am uncomfortable with two definitions of philosophy commonplace during the conference (and that they were both here is testament to discussion and debate) - one in which philosophy is analytically sound reasoning through propositions, and the other in which philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom culminating in spirituality. But where is the ethics? especially of the applied kind? Which is precisely why it was wonderful to see the panels on philosophy and children that included workshops with children of different ages.
Some more controversial things did happen. I leave some of them for later. In a philosophy of religion panel, a prominent hawzawi thinker Shaykh Hasan Ramezani gave a lucid internal discussion of the basic commitment to ‘aql in religion – ‘aql here of course not being reasoning in any noticeably Enlightenment sense but one which draws heavily from the Shi‘i hadith literature. One chap raised a basic objection: the problem with hawzawi chaps is that they continually repeat old stuff and need to engage especially in this context with new thinkers to avoid obsolescence. The tension between secular trained academics from philosophy departments and hawzawi/hybrid trained philosophers is clear – and yet the latter have really leaped ahead not least in their embrace of the Kantian and analytic traditions. The most lucid and vibrant discussions on pragmatics of truth, on the Habermasian public space and on the linkages between the semantic discussions of usul al-fiqh and the philosophy of language (Kripke et al) are conducted with these hybrid mullahs. Yet one feels that this is very much philosophy as defender of the faith, deployed as the handmaiden of theology, as the key weapon in the new theology (kalam-e jadid) that has been dominant since the 1960s.