Commentary as an Epistemic Genre: Making and Transmitting Knowledge in 15th ca. Islamic Astronomy

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Abstract Summary
Ulugh Beg’s 15th c. Samarqand observatory and associated madrasa is one of the most famous Islamic scientific institutions, producing astronomical observations that were not equalled until Tycho Brahe. Less is known, however, about the process of research and education at Samarqand, but a number of commentaries produced by Samarqand scholars shed light on the intellectual life of the classroom and the role of patronage in scholars’ careers. In this paper, I explore the ways in which such commentaries reflect a critical engagement with problems in theoretical astronomy as well as the educational practices of Ulugh Beg’s madrasa. I argue that commentaries functioned as a means of making as well as transmitting astronomical knowledge, highlighting how commentaries served to fulfill both research and teaching goals within the context of an Islamic educational institution. I draw examples from the works of three scholars: Qadizade al-Rumi, observatory director and Ulugh Beg's personal tutor, who wrote a commentary on the Almagest and whose commentary on a popular elementary astronomy treatise became a widely-used intermediate textbook in Ottoman madrasas; Qadizade's student Fathallah al-Shirwani, who wrote a supercommentary on Qadizade's textbook in addition to his own commentary on Nasir al-Din al-Tusi’s famous work of theoretical astronomy; and Ali Qushji, a close companion of Ulugh Beg who later became head of the Ayasofya madrasa in Istanbul under Sultan Mehmed II, and who wrote commentaries on cutting-edge theoretical astronomy and philosophical theology in addition to his own works on mathematics.
Abstract ID :
HSS570
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
Renaissance
Self-Designated Keywords :
astronomy, mathematics, cosmology, commentary, Islamic science, science education, scientific genres

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