Religion and the Rise and Fall of Islamic Science 

Source: Harvard website, Dec 2015

 

Why did the “Golden Age” of Islamic science end? To explore this question, I gather data on scientific production from Harvard’s library collection and a catalog of books from seventeenth century Istanbul.
I document that the proportion of books dedicated to scientific topics declined in the medieval period, noting that the empirical patterns weigh against explanations attributing the decline to external shocks such as the Crusades, Mongol invasions, or colonialism.
Instead, the results link the decline to institutional changes starting in the eleventh century that altered the relative payoffs to producing scientific knowledge.
I discuss the role religious leaders played in generating these developments, concluding that the available evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that an increase in the political power of these elites caused the observed decline in scientific output.
I provide qualitative evidence that these newly empowered elites worked to restrict the production of scientific knowledge because they believed that unrestrained scientific research led to deism and atheism.
 I argue that where religious elites are more powerful they will favor an institutional and educational framework that discourages human capital accumulation that could detract from their control over the population

 

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