The Western Reception of al-Ghazâlî’s Cosmology from the Middle Ages to the 21st Cen-tury

Among subjects of Islamic theology, the cosmology of al-Ghazali has received much attention in the West. Scholars in the Renaissance were familiar with al-Ghazali’s critique of philosophi-cal theories of causality in the 17th discussion of his Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa). During the first half of the 19th century, when the Western academic study of Is-lamic theology began, scholars came to the conclusion that in this chapter, al-Ghazali denied the existence of causal connections. That position was connected to an apparent lack of pro-gress in scientific research in the Muslim countries. Ernest Renan, for instances, understood al-Ghazali critique of philosophical theories of causality as an anti-rationalist, mystically inspired opposition to the natural sciences. This view became immensely influential among Western in-tellectuals and is still widely held. When al-Ghazali’s Niche of Lights (Mishkat al-anwar) be-came available during the first decades of the 20th century, Western interpreters understood that at least here al-Ghazali does not deny the existence of causal connections. During much of the 20th century, Western scholars favored an explanation that ascribes two different sets of teaching to al-Ghazali, one esoteric and one exoteric. The last decades of the 20th century saw two very different interpretations of al-Ghazali’s cosmology in the works of Michael E. Mar-mura and Richard M. Frank. Both rejected that al-Ghazali held exoteric and esoteric views. Marmura explained causal connections as direct actions of God and Frank regarded them as expressions of secondary causality. Their contributions led to the understanding in the West that al-Ghazali did not deny the existence of causal connections and cannot be regarded as an opponent of the natural sciences in Islam. Frank GRIFFEL
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