Modernity, Civilization and the Return to History

Modernity, Civilization and the Return to History

by Anthony F Shaker


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The modern concept and study of civilization have their roots, not in western Europe, but in the spirit of scientific investigation associated with a self-conscious Islamicate civilization. What we call modernity cannot be fathomed without this historical connection. We owe every major branch of science known today to the broad tradition of systematic inquiry that belongs to a "region of being"--as Heidegger would say--whose theoretical, practical and institutional dimensions the philosophy of that civilization played an unprecedented role in creating.

This book focuses primarily on the philosophical underpinnings of questions relating to civilization, personhood and identity. Contemporary society and thinking in western Europe introduced new elements to these questions that have altered how collective and personal identities are conceived and experienced. In the age of "globalization," expressions of identity (individual, social and cultural) survive precariously outside their former boundaries, just when humanity faces perhaps its greatest challenges--environmental degradation, policy inertia, interstate bellicosity, and a growing culture of tribalism. Yet, the world has been globalized for at least a millennium, a fact dimmed by the threadbare but still widespread belief that modernity is a product of something called the West.

One is thus justified in asking, as many people do today, if humanity has not lost its initiative. This is more a philosophical than an empirical question. There can be no initiative without the human agency that flows from identity and personhood--i.e., the way we, the acting subject, live and deliberate about our affairs. Given the heavy scrutiny under which the modern concept of identity has come, Dr. Shaker has dug deeper, bringing to bear a wealth of original sources from both German thought and Ḥikmah (Islamicate philosophy), the latter based on material previously unavailable to scholars. Posing the age-old question of identity anew in the light of these two traditions, whose special historical roles are assured, may help clear the confusion surrounding modernity and, hopefully, our place in human civilization.

Proximity to Scholasticism, and therefore Islamicate philosophy, lent German thought up to Heidegger a unique ability to dialogue with other thought traditions. Two fecund elements common to Heidegger, Qūnawī and Mullā Ṣadrā are of special importance: Logos (utterance, speech) as the structural embodiment at once of the primary meaning (essential reality) of a thing and of divine manifestation; and the idea of unity-in-difference, which Ṣadrā finally formulated as the substantial movement of existence. But behind this complexity is the abiding question of who Man is, which cannot be answered by theory alone.

Heidegger, who occupies a good portion of this study, questioned the modern ontology at a time of social collapse and deep spiritual crisis not unlike ours. Yet, that period also saw the greatest breakthroughs in modern physics and social science. The concluding chapters take up, more specifically, identity renewal in Western literature and Muslim "reformism." The renewal theme reflects a point of convergence between the Eurocentric worldview, in which modernism has its secular aesthetics roots, and a current originating in Ibn Taymiyyah's reductionist epistemology and skeptical fundamentalism. It expresses a hopeless longing for origin in a historically pristine "golden age," an obvious deformation of philosophy's millennial concern with the commanding, creative oneness of the Being of beings.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781622731855
Publisher: Vernon Art and Science
Publication date: 03/06/2017
Series: Vernon Series in Philosophy
Pages: 584
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.18(d)

About the Author

Anthony F. Shaker is a philosopher, scholar of Islamic thought/civilization, and analyst of social theory. He has authored numerous articles and books, including the only complete study of Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī's thought (d. 1274 CE) and two translated volumes of Ghazālī's Iḥyā' al-ʿulūm. He also served as an elected member of the executive council of the Canadian parliament's official opposition, helping formulate policy and conferring with various political leaders. He is currently exploring the idea of productive dialogue within the framework of civilization, not only as a channel of passive exchange across cultures. He obtained his doctorate from McGill University and currently lives with his wife in Quebec, Canada.

Table of Contents



1. The structural transformation of self-identity

2. The unfolding of the truth question

3. Intuition and anniyyah (haecceity, anitas)


4. Speech and the rational faculty

5. Speech dynamics and the origin of human community

6. Inflection and subordination in the language of existence

7. The question of origin

8. The proliferation of thought and its implications for society


9. The ends of philosophy

10. The aesthetic origin of modernism

11. Modernity or Westernization?


12. Reasoning about history

13. The myth of the historical subject

14. The medieval roots of exceptionalism

15. Enlightened civilization: social identity and the ethical question

16. The ruse of the technical impulse

17. The Ḥikmah conception of life

18. The existential principles of systematic science


19. Intellect as act

20. The principle of existentiating triplicity (tathlīth)

21. The life of the intellect

22. The finality of personhood


23. Renewal in a culture of collapse: Art and literature in the 1920s

24. Islām the unfinished civilization

25. The radical redundancy of Ibn Taymiyyah




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