Covid-19 has shone a harsh light on the fault lines of the countries of the twenty first century, on the inequalities within our societies, but also on how our attitudes to science and to religion shape our sense of responsibility to our neighbors. In this talk, I look back over the intellectual responses to epidemic disease in the Muslim world in the premodern period, addressing attitudes towards contagion, God’s omnipotence, medicine, and the believer’s duty to fellow Muslims. My aim is not to draw lessons with our own current predicament as to deepen our understanding of how prior generations of mankind responded to a challenge we are all-too familiar with today.”
Justin Stearns is an associate professor of Arab Crossroads Studies at New York University in Abu Dhabi. His research interests focus on the intersection between law, science, and theology in the pre-modern Islamic Middle East. He earned his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from Princeton University in 2007. His books include Infectious Ideas (2011), Revealed Sciences (2021), and a translation and edition of al-Yusi’s Discourses.