Against Ptolemy? Cosmography in Early Kalām

Anchassi, Omar Walid (15 May 2023). Against Ptolemy? Cosmography in Early Kalām (Unpublished). In: Theology, Philosophy and Nature: On Traditionalist, Arab and “foreign” Science in Early and Classical Kalām. The Aga Khan University, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations: 10 Handyside Street, London, N1C 4DN. 15-16th May 2023.

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This paper explores how mutakallimūn engaged with competing visions of the cosmos, Aristotelian-Ptolemaic and traditionalist, to the beginning of the sixth/twelfth century. Notwithstanding their many disagreements, Aristotle (d. 322 BCE) and Ptolemy (d. c. 170 CE) are usually understood to have taught that the cosmos is comprised of a series of concentric spheres, at the centre of which rests an immobile, spherical earth. The “traditionalist” cosmography, typified by works like al-Hayʾa al-sunniyya of al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505), alternatively, depicts the cosmos as a stack of plates, with seven heavens and seven earths (usually) separated by a distance of five hundred years’ travel. Drawing on works of kalām, Qurʾān commentary, ḥadīth and items from other genres, I demonstrate that the mutakallimūn remained fundamentally divided on such questions as the shape of the earth and the relationship between the celestial bodies and the heavens to the end of the period in question. These disagreements, moreover, cannot be explained in terms of school affiliation. I argue that cosmographical opinion among the mutakallimūn was a function of exposure to Late Ancient learning, intellectual formation and personal inclination more than doctrinal commitment, with a few important exceptions.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institut für Studien zum Nahen Osten und zu muslimischen Gesellschaften

UniBE Contributor:

Anchassi, Omar Walid


200 Religion > 290 Other religions




Omar Walid Anchassi

Date Deposited:

10 Apr 2024 14:27

Last Modified:

10 Apr 2024 14:27


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