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The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’* International Working Group

     Aquinas,                   Alfarabi,             Avicenna,        Averroes,     &    Maimonides


Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group

An International Working Group on

Medieval Philosophy in the Abrahamic Traditions

2005 -

Rationale for the Project

   Recent political events in the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, the United States and elsewhere around the globe have made it especially clear that the tradition of cross cultural and inter religious understanding which has been been and continues to be central to Jesuit education has a crucial role to play in teaching and learning at Marquette University and the other Jesuit universities in America. The long history of Jesuit education includes the establishment of St. Joseph University in Beirut in 1860 and the founding of Baghdad College in 1932, events which were a sign of the Jesuit commitment both to education of young people of all religions and to research for the sake of religious and cultural understanding and cooperation.  The Mélanges of  St Joseph University is an important research periodical on Arabic / Islamic philosophy.  The renowned Jesuit scholar, Rev. Maurice Bouyges, S.J., of St Joseph University, contributed many articles on Arabic philosophy and its influence. He also produced critical editions of the work of the Andalusian philosopher and religious judge, Ibn Rushd / Averroes, editions which continue to be considered exemplars of scholarship nearly seventy years after their completion. The same can be said of the editions of Ibn Sina / Avicenna and Arabic texts of Galen by Rev. Georges Anawati, O.P., of the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies in Cairo, who also wrote a bibliography of Averroes, made a French translation of the Metaphysics of the Shifâ’ of Avicenna, and contributed much more on the Arabic philosophical tradition itself and its influence. These twentieth century Catholic scholars and teachers contributed greatly to inter religious understanding through sound scholarship in the study of Arabic / Islamic philosophy in its own right, in the Greek sources foundational for its development, and in its powerful and penetrating influence on the Latin West . In this way they continue to provide models for future work in medieval philosophy in the context of respect and appreciation for the sophisticated insights on philosophical and theological issues by thinkers working in the context of Islamic culture and religion (dâr al-islâm).

The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group’s Presence at Marquette

The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group

In an effort to follow the models of those famous Catholic scholars by contributing to understanding and dialogue in the context of sound historical scholarship in the history of philosophy and theology, Drs. Richard C. Taylor and David B. Twetten of the Philosophy Department at Marquette University founded in Fall 2005 a new working group under the title, “Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’*”. The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group promotes understanding and insight into philosophical and theological issues prominent in the Medieval period in the Abrahamic traditions in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin writings, issues which continue to inform philosophical and theological thought today in important ways. The major focus of the International Working Group is on issues in the thought of Aquinas which elucidate the depth of his engagement with the Arabic and Jewish traditions and the positive and valuable influence of those traditions on his thought and that of Christian thinkers of the high middle ages in Europe. The Project, however, is not limited to Aquinas but rather seeks to promote the understanding of philosophical thought in all three Abrahamic traditions in themselves as well as in their interactions and influences. To that end the Project encourages work in all three traditions and is particularly interested in influences, parallel developments and also unique and valuable philosophical and theological insights and contributions to the history of philosophy.

        With a strong faculty in areas of the Abrahamic Traditions and a history of  research and publications in Medieval philosophical and theological thought in its Mediaeval Philosophical Texts in Translation Series, in the Aquinas Lecture Series, and in the Marquette Studies in Philosophy and Theology by Marquette University Press, Marquette University has been welcoming host for Project events at various times.  Marquette provides a strong and developing library collection of books and periodicals, a wide array of research databases, and cooperative library staff and facilities for many of the fundamental needs for researchers in these areas. Its well equipped and staffed Beaumier Conference Center in Raynor Memorial Library has provided a comfortable venue for a number of meetings, conferences, seminars centered on understanding and cooperation among the Abrahamic traditions have been organized in the last five or more years by faculty from the Departments of Philosophy, Theology and History working together in common purpose. These resources, activities and events have enriched the lives of campus faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and staff.


Seminars and Conferences

    Since its founding The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group’s members have initiated seminars, conferences and other events both on the Marquette campus and elsewhere. The Project annually sponsors four text seminars as well as other events at Marquette. For information, click HERE.

An International Project with the Assistance of the Commissio Leonina

For extracts or the complete text of the 2008 interview

of Dr. Adriano Oliva, O.P., president of the Commissio

Leonina by Prof. Mark Johnson of the Marquette

University Theology Department on this collaboration,

click HERE

Recently new avenues of research and international cooperation have presented themselves in support of the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group. On the basis of discussions in Paris and Palermo in February, September, and November 2007, a cooperative arrangement was crafted between the Marquette Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group and the Commissio Leonina for an international project on the thought of Thomas Aquinas and the role played in its development by sources from the Arabic philosophical tradition.  The Commissio Leonina  was established to edit and study the works of Thomas Aquinas in 1879 by Pope Leo XIII with a directive and financial support provided to a scholarly collège of Dominicans who chose to honor Pope Leo by taking on the name, Commissio Leonina.  Since that time the Commissio Leonina has published some 38 volumes of scientific critical editions of the work of Thomas with a number of volumes now awaiting publication and still others in the process of being studied and prepared for editing.  See http://leonina.nerim.net/ for more details on the work of the Commissio Leonina.

While scholars of the thought of Aquinas have long acknowledged that Thomas engaged the challenges presented in translated texts of philosophy from the Arabic / Islamic tradition, no systematic and comprehensive study has been undertaken to explicate in detail the extensive and profound influence of that tradition beginning with Aquinas’s first and foundational encounters with this philosophical tradition in his early Commentary on the Sentences and continuing through the major phases of his work until his death in 1274. Furthermore, while the Commissio Leonina at Paris (see http://leonina.nerim.net/) continues to advance in the preparation of critical editions of the works of Aquinas, the Commissio has no one on its staff with the knowledge and experience working with Latin and Arabic texts needed to provide the detailed research and precise annotation required to document and explicate in detail the use of the Arabic  philosophical tradition by Thomas in his works.

In light of this, the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Project founded at Marquette has committed to working to remedy these deficiencies over the next fourteen (14) years through a close collaboration of its members with the Commissio Leonina in the person of its president, Dr. Adriano Oliva, O.P., for the preparation of a series of ten (10) volumes of translations and commentaries in four phases corresponding to major periods in the lifework of Aquinas. Each volume of translations will contain an introductory overview of the texts studied in approximately 25-30 pp. Each text translated will be preceded by a 1-2 page description of the issues treated in the text. Approximately 40-50% of each volume will be devoted to detailed source commentaries with argument analysis for each of the texts translated.  In these commentaries the philosophical accounts of Aquinas will be expounded in reference to both the Latin translations from Arabic and the Arabic originals. Each commentary will explain in detail the philosophical arguments and reasoning found in the Arabic works and provide an analytical comparison with the Latin translation and with the philosophical reasoning of Aquinas.  The purpose here is twofold: (i) to show in precise detail for each selected text just how very much and how deeply Aquinas drew from the Arabic / Islamic tradition for his thought, and (ii) to explicate with equal precision just how he adapted and restructured arguments and teachings to his own philosophical and theological context in the Christian tradition. In the commentaries the relevant texts from the Arabic sources will be cited and translated for readers unfamiliar with Arabic.

A series of annual conferences on Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ and related issues concerning philosophy in the Abrahamic traditions over the period of this work will generate an additional four (4) or more volumes of research articles and studies both on the influence of the Arabic tradition on Aquinas and the Latin West and on parallels and similarities in the independent development of philosophical and theological reasoning in the history of philosophy and theology in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Advanced pre-publication dissemination of translations and some studies is now underway with materials available for use via this Project Website. Click on Links to Translations and Essays above.   The offer of a contract for the publication of the work of Phase 1, Part 1, has been accepted from Cambridge University Press.

    In sum, this Project will involve research work over a period of fourteen (14) years and will result in the production of ten (10) volumes of translations and commentaries as well as numerous volumes of research papers. We expect that other publications will also arise in connection with this work in addition to Ph.D. theses by students in North America, Europe and elsewhere collaborating in this Project.  The link to the student members page for Dissertations is above.

Two Annual International Research Seminar Conferences:

North America (Fall) and  Paris, France (Spring)

October 11-12, 2008, Dr. Adriano Oliva, O.P., of Paris visited Marquette University to present at the Fall 2008 Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Research Seminar Conference. This was a two-day research conference on the importance of philosophy in the theological thought of St Thomas Aquinas.

The conference featured presentations by R. E. Houser, University of St. Thomas (Houston), Jörg Tellkamp, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Mexico City), Richard Taylor, Marquette University (Milwaukee), and E. M. Macierowski, Benedictine College (Atchison, Kansas), with commentaries by Luis Xavier López Farjeat, Universidad Panamericana (Mexico City), Kevin White, The Catholic University of America (Washington, DC), and Mark Johnson, Marquette University (Milwaukee). For information, click on the Research Seminar Conferences link above.

Dr. Oliva also presented on the Commissio Leonina’s work and the theology of St Thomas on Monday October 13 before departing for Paris on Tuesday October 14.

The second Thomas d’Aquin et ses sources arabes / Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Conference took place in Paris at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir, March 27-28, 2009. For information on this and subsequent conferences in North America and Europe, click on the Research Seminar Conferences link above.   

A Unique Contribution to Interfaith Dialogue and

the Catholic Philosophical and Theological Traditions

These activities on the part of the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group constitute both (i) a concrete manifestation of a commitment to the Catholic philosophical and theological traditions through the assistance provided by the Project to the ongoing work of the Commissio Leonina, and also (ii) an invaluable contribution to the foundations of interfaith dialogue through its emphasis on the positive and shared intellectual heritage of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  Thomas Aquinas drew heavily on the Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides for his famous proofs for the existence of God. He also found in Avicenna the distinction of essence and existence which he developed into the foundation of his metaphysical thought.  Less well known is the use to which he, just as did his teacher St Albert, put Averroean concepts in his natural theology and even in his supernatural theology of beatitude.  Furthermore, in Averroes and al-Fârâbî St Thomas found epistemological principles central to his understanding of human nature and the unity of the human person as body and soul together. These are just some of many areas of the thought of Thomas in which that shared heritage displayed and explicated by careful study of his work and its sources from the Arabic philosophical tradition.  In exploring and explicating the thought of St Thomas and the importance of philosophy from the Arabic / Islamic tradition in his thought, the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group makes a very special contribution to real historical foundations for interfaith understanding and also to furthering knowledge of the Catholic religious tradition and its development.

CONTACT INFORMATION: For information on the “Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’” Project at Marquette University and its participants, contact Prof. Richard C. Taylor at Richard.Taylor@Marquette.edu.

(Updated 6 May 2011)


*The project title reference to ‘the arabs’ comes from the works of aquinas who, like other thinkers of the latin west, was unaware of ethnic differences among the arabic writing thinkers of the classical rationalist tradition in the islamic cultural milieu.  al-kindî, known as ‘the philosopher of the arabs,’ was of arab lineage. al-Fârâbî was born in turkestan and studied in Baghdad. Ibn Sînâ (Avicenna) was born to a family culturally persian in afshana, near bukhara, in present day afghanistan. ibn rushd (averroes) was born in cordoba and probably should be considered andalusian or Maghrabi. note also that maimonides is included among the philosophers of the tradition since his philosophical thought was importantly formed through study of al-Farabi, avicenna and averroes among other sources and in significant respects is a continuation of that tradition. My thanks to Peter Adamson for an important suggestion regarding this name.