Thesis ID: CBB512664986

Bodies of Knowledge: Medicine, Memory, and Enhancement in Medieval Islam (2021)


Vignone, Joseph Leonardo (Author)
El-Rouayheb, Khaled (Advisor)
Ragab, Ahmed (Advisor)

Harvard University
El-Rouayheb, Khaled
Ragab, Ahmed
Publication date: 2021
Language: English

Publication Date: 2021
Physical Details: 249

In this dissertation I study the privileged place of medical erudition in the ethical literature (ādāb) written by Muslim scholarly elites (ulema) from the tenth through fourteenth centuries. Authors of ādāb in this period were keen to learn whether certain activities, drugs, and surgical procedures might augment intellectual capacity on a humoral basis. In arguing for or against these interventions, they engaged in sophisticated natural philosophical discussions on the topics of scholarly aptitude, bodily health, and psychological well-being. In the dissertation’s first chapter I recount the drug and surgical therapies medieval physicians recommended for improving the functioning of the brain. In the second I situate this discourse within ādāb’s understanding of the human body as being ruled by its humoral nature. The precise influence this nature had over one’s intellectual capacities was always open to debate, but I show that by the twelfth century authors of ādāb were willing to admit a degree of fluidity to natures allowing for meaningful intervention along the lines suggested by physicians. As familiarity with natural philosophy and theoretical medicine gained increasing professional prestige among the ulema, matters of mental fitness and bodily health attained an equally important devotional dimension. The third chapter explores how heavily the pietistic consequences of intellectual illness weighed on the ulema’s understanding of themselves as the custodians of religious knowledge. This led authors of ādāb to cite the advice of medical authorities alongside recommendations made by the Prophet and his Companions in order to protect the ulema from ill health and bad memory. Authors of ādāb additionally argued that the taxing nature of the ulema’s education might promote such maladies in the first place. In the final chapter I therefore describe the measures they suggested for limiting the hardships of the scholarly lifestyle with specific reference to the heath of the ulema’s hearts and spirits. In addition to describing the role medicine played in the professional formation of the ulema, demonstrating ādāb’s interest in the physical and mental health of its readership sheds further light on the natural scientific, devotional, and affective dimensions of medieval Islamic scholarly society.

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Authors & Contributors
Adamson, Peter
Ansari, Usamah Yasin
Burnett, Charles
Callataÿ, Godefroid de
Campanini, Saverio
Celesia, Gastone G.
History of Psychiatry
History of Religions
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Princeton University
Arcadian Library
Ashgate, Variorum
Boydell & Brewer
C. Winter
Medicine and religion
Mind and body
Ailly, Pierre d'
Alcmaeon of Crotona
Asharaf Ali Thanvi, Moulaana
Thomas Aquinas, Saint
Constantinus Africanus
Time Periods
12th century
15th century
19th century
Middle and Near East
Levant and Near East
Ikhwān al-Ṣafā (Brethren of Purity)

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