The Bright Dark Ages: Comparative and Connective Perspectives

Network Node: 
Wed., Feb. 27, 2013, 8:00am - Thu., Feb. 28, 2013, 11:45pm

The Bright Dark Ages: Comparative and Connective Perspectives
27 Feb 2013 - 28 Feb 2013
Ari Seminar Room
Tower Block Level 10, 469A Bukit Timah Road
National University of Singapore @ BTC
Photos also available HERE


Situating Science is pleased to provide travel support for this international event.

Attempts to globalize the discipline of the history, philosophy and sociology of science by including the content and contexts of the Asian traditions of science - especially Chinese, Indian and Islamic-Arabic – along with Western/modern science have generally adopted two different approaches. Both are inspired by the recognition that the millennium between the sixth and sixteenth centuries should not only be characterized as the dark age of European science in contrast to the golden age of Hellenistic science, but also the bright age of Asian science when seminal advances in science were made in China, India and the Islamic-Arabic world. However, studies of Asian science in this millennium – which may be labelled a ‘Bright Dark Ages’ – have proceeded in two different directions often seen as opposed to each other. One looks at the Asian and Western/modern traditions in a comparative perspective largely inspired by an attempt to answer the famous Needham Question: Why did modern science emerge in Europe but not Asia despite the great achievements of Asian sciences in the Bright Dark Ages? The second involves the connective approach of showing how modern science became possible only because its creators were able to draw upon, and build on, the achievements of these Asian traditions of science.

Although the two approaches are not necessarily incompatible they often originate from profoundly different conceptions of the history of science with corresponding implications for our understanding of both the philosophy and sociology of science. Comparativists generally assume that the traditions of science in the different civilizations grew in isolation from each other, and that connections across civilizations only had a marginal impact on the science that developed within civilizations (with the possible exception of Islamic-Arabic science that acknowledges contributions from other civilizations as crucial). This has implications for how we comprehend the philosophy and sociology of science in each of these civilizations – it suggests that the crucial philosophical and socio-cultural impacts must be sought for in essential factors within the civilization concerned rather than outside it.

By contrast connectivists not only perceive the Asian traditions as influencing each other crucially in the Bright Dark Ages, but also see these traditions as shaping the emergence of modern science in Europe. Such a connective history of science also impacts on our conception of the philosophical ideas and social contexts that shaped a particular scientific tradition. Each tradition within a particular civilization is now seen as growing through an exchange of philosophical ideas with other traditions in a socio-cultural context defined by other civilizations.

The  workshop will examine how comparative and connective perspectives shape our understanding of the historical sociology and philosophy of science not only in the Asian civilizations (Chinese, Indian, Islamic –Arabic) but also early modern Europe.

More information from the Asia Research Institute, NUS HERE