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What Was Islamic Culture and What Happened to It?

What Was Islamic Culture and What Happened to It?
(Dr. S. Frederick Starr, December 14, 2016)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

Dr. S. Frederick Starr is the author of Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane, which chronicles a forgotten age of achievement, seeks to explain its rise, and explores the competing theories about the cause of its eventual demise. The book has been translated into 13 languages. He is the founding Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, a joint transatlantic research center affiliated with the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University in Washington (where he is a Research Professor).

His research on the countries of Greater Central Asia, their history, development, internal dynamics, as well as on US policy towards the region has resulted in twenty-two books and 200 published articles. His most recent book is The Ferghana Valley: The Heart of Central Asia.

Dr. Starr is a frequent commentator on the affairs of the region, and the author of numerous articles in journals including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Review, Far East Economic Review, and op-eds in various leading American and international newspapers. During the past decade he has returned repeatedly to the challenge of reopening continental-wide transport passing through Central Asia and Afghanistan, which he sees as a key to success in Afghanistan itself.

Dr. Starr was the founding Chairman of the Kennan Institute in Washington, and served as Vice President of Tulane University and President of the Aspen Institute and of Oberlin College (1983-94). He was closely involved in planning the University of Central Asia and the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy and is a trustee of the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. He earned his PhD in History at Princeton, MA at King’s College, Cambridge, and his BA at Yale, and holds four honorary degrees.


Robert Reilly:

Well, now tonight, it is a tremendous pleasure to introduce our mystery guest who is a star. I don’t really want to read the conventional bio here since most of you received it in the email, but I will tell you that as you know, Socrates’ greatest achievement was knowing his own ignorance and I’ve always known I was an ignorant man, but I never understood the dimensions of my ignorance until I began reading Frederick Starr’s book, The Lost Enlightenment, Central Asia’s Golden Age from Arab Conquest to Tamarlane. This is a staggering book that has shown me how ignorant I am. It’s a treasure that I believe only a renaissance man could have written.

As he begins, several millennia BC in Asia, the book is enriched with his own experience of working as an archaeologist, his knowledge of mathematics, of astronomy, of all of these fields is astounding. That makes this the work of a renaissance man.

Well, I will say a couple of conventional things. The book’s been translated into thirteen languages, and that Dr. Starr is the founding Chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies program affiliated with the Paul Nitze School at SAIS at Johns Hopkins University and 22 books, 200 plus articles, etc. Past president of Oberlin College, and Vice President Tulane, President of the Aspen Institute, history PhD from Princeton and many other accomplishments.

I will say, on the renaissance side, I don’t want to take any more of his time, that he is also a world class jazz clarinetist and has written a major biography of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Yes, you know, more than 400 pages, who was one of the great virtuoso pianists of the United States in the 19th century and a significant composer.

The last thing I’ll tell you is that he has a very large collection of forte pianos. Now, how that is all assimilated into the lecture tonight is one thing you’ll look forward to. It’s a privilege to have Dr. Starr here, addressing the subject of, “What was Islamic culture and what happened to it?” Please join me in welcoming him.

S. Frederick Starr:

That was much more than generous. Really, much, much more than generous. What I’m going to be speaking about this evening is really a lot of footnotes on Bob Reilly’s book and about the great division in Islam, but this story will take place about four or five hundred, several hundreds years after the split originated.

But, let me say something perfectly obvious and that is I am no expert in these things and what I’ve learned is exactly what you heard earlier you said about yourself and that is these are subjects which are frankly you know it has invited a lot of instant experts. And yet there are complicated matters and I can well imagine a counter thesis to everything I’m presenting tonight that some clever person who digs deeper than I did might come up with. In other words, I think we have to be modest about, I have to be modest about what we’re proposing here.

Now, let me say a word about where this book came from. I didn’t set out to write a 650 page book on Central Asia in the Middle Ages.

See the rest of his Westminster talk…

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