Continuity, Contiguity, Contingency: Islam and Copernicus Reconsidered

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Location: 216 DeBartolo

F. Jamil Ragep
Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University


Since the rediscovery in the 1950s that Copernicus used mathematical devices in his astronomy that had originally been developed by Islamic astronomers, there has been much discussion about how he might have come to know of these devices, or whether he might have reinvented these on his own. But as the number of coincidences between Copernican astronomy and Islamic astronomy has continued to mount, we may be in a position to ask another question: what difference does it make? In other words, even if we knew that Copernicus had "borrowed" much of his astronomy, even his heliocentric hypothesis, from Islamic sources, what would the implications be for our understanding of history of science or even history in general? Would we need to rethink such staples of western history as the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Rise of the West, and civilizational boundaries? Or would it be simpler just to demote the Copernican Revolution (as has often been done)? In this talk, we will explore some of these questions, and try to understand how this Copernican question can open up numerous other questions of intellectual, social and political history and historiography.

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