History of Science in Islamic Civilization WISM483

Important Note: This course has been taught for the first time in the spring of 2015 at the University of Utrecht (course number WISM483). It will be taught from now on every spring semester (February – June).



  1. MSc. Hüseyin Şen, Prof. Dr. J.P. Hogendijk,


Course Description:

This course will introduce students to the scientific tradition within Islamic civilization roughly between the 9th and the 16th century. After a short introduction to the origins and history of Islamic religion and civilization, students learn about the beginnings, historical development and output of the medieval scientific tradition. Students will also learn about the historiography of Islamic science: about the research tools, primary and secondary sources, methods and output of scholars of the field. Students will get first hand aquintance with sources through assignments and  workshops involving the manuscripts and instruments such as the astrolabe. Students will also have the opportunity to see original islamic scientific manuscripts during a visit to the oriental collections of the University Library of Leiden. Finally this course will deal with common issues and problems regarding the historiography of Islamic sciences such as i.e eurocentrism, islamocentrism, triumphalisim etc. and problems with the popularization of Islamic science.



Origins and the historical development of Islam and Islamic Civilization

  • The language of Islam: Arabic
  • Numbers of medieval Islamic Civilization: Abjad numerals & Sexagesimal Notation
  • Historiography of Islamic Science: Tools, Sources and Methods
  • Historiography of Islamic Science:  Problems & Issues
  • The origins and sources of the enterprise of science in Islamic civilization and the 9th century translation movement in Baghdad.
  • Concrete example of scientific contributions directly related to the practice of Islam such as the determination of the direction to Mecca (i.e. the qibla)
  • Concrete examples of scientific contributions not directly related to the Islamic religion
  • The transmission and influence of Islamic science to Christian Europe and influence on later scientific traditions



  • Handouts (will be provided during class for a small fee) and Books (see list below)
  • Fuat Sezgin,       Science in Islam, Institute for History of Arabic/Islamic Sciences, Wolfgang-Goethe University, Frankfurt, 2003 [ Available online for free]
  • Jim al-Khalili     House of Wisdom: how Arabic science saved ancient knowledge and gave us the Renaissance, Penguin Books, Reprint Edition 2012



Presentations by students, regular hand in exercises and a research paper and the end.


Learning goals:

After completion of the course, the student will

  • Have a sound knowledge of the historical development of Islamic science
  • Be able to recognize the Arabic alphabet and Abjad numerals and will have a basic understanding of at least one medieval Islamic instrument: the astrolabe
  • Have a good understanding of the issues and problems related to the historiography of Islamic science.