Islamic Thought and
Social Inquiry

About the Project

 

“Islamic Thought and its Implications for Current Sociological Inquiry: A Multiplex Approach” is a two-year project funded by the John Templeton Foundation and hosted by Ibn Haldun University. The project is led by Dr. Recep Şentürk and aims to initiate an interdisciplinary and international discussion to introduce and test the possibility of using a multilevel analytical framework called ‘multiplexity’. Multiplexity is derived from the age-old Arabic term ‘marātib’ which literally means hierarchy or levels. We devised the term “multiplexity” to refer to the multiple levels of existence, known as marāṭib al-wujūd, knowledge and truth. In social research, multiplexity would indicate a concept of the human being consisting of body, mind, and soul as well as a concept of social action (a’māl) at various observable and unobservable levels.

Diverse versions of what we call multiplex approach can be found in many world cultures and religions and it is also deeply rooted in the traditional Islamic disciplines including philosophy, kalām, fiqh, and taṣawwuf. Multiplex approaches stand in contradistinction to reductionist frameworks that rely on single-layered ontologies. In social sciences, such frameworks include social constructionism which reduces social phenomena to concepts or discourses, or behaviourism which tries to explain human behaviour solely in biological or psychological terms and considers human actions to be predetermined by fixed natural forces or biological qualities. Thus, we believe, exploring the idea of multiplexity will contribute to the critique of the reductionist ontologies emanating from positivism and idealism in the social sciences. 

The proposed approach with its potential to offer a holistic and comprehensive view of reality also aims at interrogating what we feel to be a series of perceived dichotomies prevalent in mainstream social research such as description and prescription, subjectivity and objectivity, solidity and fluidity, and certainty and uncertainty. 

Inspired by writings in the Islamic tradition about the idea of marātib al-nafs (levels of self), we aim to refine this line of thought by incorporating insights from other multilayered frameworks such as group selection theory that seek to explain social action by taking into account different levels of analysis (from individual characteristics of human behaviour at the micro-level to interpersonal and intergroup relations at the meso and macro levels) and perspectives like process thought that view the human person as a multilevel entity consisting of both a ‘biological organism and a responsible self’. Thus, we see interdisciplinary collaboration as critical not only to refine Islamic thought but to proffer better models for understanding human action.

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