Alexander Orwin

Redefining the Muslim Community

Ethnicity, Religion, and Politics in the Thought of Alfarabi

University of Pennsylvania Press 2017

New Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in Middle Eastern StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network March 19, 2018 Moses Lapin

Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (c. 872 – c. 950) a philosopher who wrote on politics, metaphysics, and logic as well as mathematics, psychology, and music,...

Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (c. 872 – c. 950) a philosopher who wrote on politics, metaphysics, and logic as well as mathematics, psychology, and music, was known by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the “second teacher,” second only to Aristotle. Although little of his biography is known, we have many of his works that were instrumental in preserving and adapting the Greek philosophical heritage in an Islamic idiom in the Middle Ages. Until the work of Leo Strauss and his students, Alfarabi was largely a forgotten figure to modern scholars.

Today’s podcast is a discussion with Alexander Orwin about his new book Redefining the Muslim Community: Ethnicity, Religion, and Politics in the Thought of Alfarabi (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), a synthetic study across Alfarabi’s disparate oeuvre that weaves a thematic treatment of notions such as language, nationhood, religion, and politics with an analysis of each of his works in turn. Using the term umma (literally “nation,” although inclusive of terms like civilization or community) as a keyword, Orwin shows how Alfarabi strove to recast the Islamic umma as a community in both a religious and cultural sense. This not only provides a gateway into understanding Alfarabi’s works more broadly, but spotlights his competing loyalties to religion and philosophy. In rethinking the political thought of Plato and Aristotle and demonstrating that their vision of politics was not rendered obsolete by the Islamic faith, Alfarabi, and thereby Orwin, engages in a discourse around nationhood that precedes nationalism and comes to terms with diversity across ethnic, religious, and state boundaries.

Alexander Orwin is an assistant professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University.


Moses Lapin is a graduate student in the departments of History and Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he will be interning this summer at Yoyodyne.

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