“The Arab Renaissance and Philosophy”- 9th Nahda Forum, coinciding with World Philosophy Day
“Is Arab Renaissance a prerequisite for philosophy, or is philosophy a prerequisite for Arab Renaissance?” This was the opening intellectual salvo for the 9th Nahda Forum Session convened on Sunday, November 25th, in Amman spearheaded by the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD). Coinciding with World Philosophy Day (Thursday, November 15), this session featured Dr. Wajih Kanso, distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Hermeneutics - University Of Lebanon, and director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (RIIFS).
Placing trends in philosophy in the Arab world alongside the history of philosophy in the West, Dr. Kanso discussed the challenges to philosophical inquiry more broadly, and more specifically discussed these challenges in the context of cultivating a bona fide Arab Renaissance. Plainly, he argued that there cannot be an Arab Renaissance without philosophy. Any instance in a renaissance throughout history, he went so far as posit, was driven by an act of philosophy.
Invoking Hegel, Kanso argued that philosophy is intimately connected to reality; philosophy is thus not a mere intellectual exercise, but exists precisely to change and reconstitute reality. Which is precisely why, he went on to argue, philosophers have all too often historically been in the crosshairs of authority figures – citing Abu Hamid al Ghazali and Ibn Rushd, Kanso was clear that this relationship between philosophy and power is just as palpable in Arab and Islamic intellectual history as it is in Western history.
This intimate relationship between philosophy and power is precisely what informs Kanso’s conclusion that Arab Renaissance has failed to materialize precisely owing to a lack of philosophical input in Arab societies. Seeing the Arab social system as responsible for a sore lack of philosophical thinking in the region, Kanso urged that no Renaissance can proceed without rectifying the paucity in philosophical inquiry at a systemic level. Going as far as arguing that political regression in the Arab world is intimately tied to the marginalization of the study of philosophy in our academic institutions, he called for an urgent revival of philosophical teaching the region’s schools, emphasizing rationalist thinking based on science and critical thinking. Philosophy is not merely the purview of obscure academics, but will serve as precisely the vehicle to stimulate an Arab Renaissance.
Indeed, it is precisely Kanso’s dictum, connecting intellectual output with systemic societal change, that has animated ARDD’s efforts more broadly, and its Renaissance Center think tank more specifically. Tangible projects geared toward social development – like the many social welfare programs under ARDD’s stewardship – will only have long-term staying power if they are in fact animated by an intellectual ethos that promotes critical and progressive thinking. ARDD’s work on the late Moroccan philosopher Mohammed Abed al-Jabiri – about whom Dr. Kanso spoke considerably during his lecture – is a testament to this mission, to encourage critical thought as precisely the vehicle to animate an Arab Renaissance. With further endeavors under the auspices of the Nahda Center, we hope to further encourage critical philosophical reflection, and thus pave the road for an Arab Renaissance properly coming to full fruition.