Little research has been done on the intellectual life of the Arab-Islamic world between the 15th and 19th centuries. This scholarly neglect almost certainly reflects the widespread assumption that intellectual life in the Arab-Islamic world entered a long period of stagnation or “sclerosis” after the 13th or 14th century. This state of affairs is often believed to have lasted until the 19th century, when European military and economic expansion awakened the Arab-Islamic world from its dogmatic slumber, and inaugurated a “reawakening” or “renaissance” (nahḍa). An influential statement of this view of intellectual life in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire before the 19th century is to be found in Gibb and Bowen's Islamic Society and the West. Although they noted that “the barrenness of the period has been greatly exaggerated,” they still stated that Arabic scholarly culture had degenerated, on the whole, into a rote, unquestioning acquisition of a narrow and religiously dominated field of knowledge. No “quickening breath had blown” on Arab-Islamic scholarship for centuries. Isolated even from Persian and Turkish influences, it was reduced to “living on its own past.”
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