Prof. Dr. Ahmed H. al-Rahim

Research Interests:

Arabic and Islamic Studies; Historiography of medieval Arabic philosophy; Reception of Avicenna's  (d. 1037) philosophy; Prosopography and literary biography; Etiquette and ethics in medieval Islam; Islamic protocols of the gaze

Project Abstract

Categories of the Philosophical Past: The Arabic Tradition

How is the history of Arabic philosophy ordered and by whom? What categories of periodization shape the historiography of and demarcate, from Greek into Arabic into Latin, the history of philosophy? How has philosophy as a discipline, spanning time and epochs of civilization, been defined and understood? And what are the reflexive categories of historical and civilizational time within which the Arabic philosophical tradition situates itself? By addressing these questions of time and historical epistemology, this research project focuses on two historiographical traditions of Arabic philosophy. 

The first is that of Western Europe. Beginning in the Renaissance and forward, notably, to the late nineteenth century, this tradition broadly suppressed the philosophical and intellectual significance of medieval Arabic philosophy, particularly, after the eleventh century and its transmission into Latin translations. In the evolutionary development of Western philosophy, Arabic philosophy represents, according to this historiography, an intermediary stage — where Arabic serves as translational repository of the Greek and Hellenistic tradition — within a linear timeline leading to Latin Renaissance Humanism and culminating in modern philosophy and science as associated with Western modernity. This periodization of Arabic philosophy, and Islamic intellectual history more generally, as one consisting of a Golden Age followed by a Dark Age — where philosophical “originality” ceased to exist in Islamic civilization — is linked inextricably to this historiography of the progress of (Western) philosophy. The second historiographical tradition, to be examined, is that of Arabic philosophy. This indigenous tradition of Arabo-Islamicate civilization, epitomized in its expansive prosopographical dictionaries, is widely understood to begin with the Graeco-Arabic translation movement in the eighth century to the death of Avicenna in 1037 and thereafter end with Napoléon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. In deconstructing the philosophical historiography of these two traditions, the project will, inter alia, demonstrate how conceptions of historical time and civilizational shift inform the historiography with which a philosophical tradition is created and studied.

Curriculum vitae


PhD (2009), Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University


Since 2017 | Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Since 2013 | Director of Islamic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

2014–2015 | Director of the Program in Medieval Studies, University of Virginia

2009–2017 | Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia


2019–2020 | Mellon Humanities Fellow, The Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, University of Virginia

2015/2016/2021 | Research Support for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, University of Virginia

2014 | Fellowship, Classical Studies, Università degli Studi Roma Tre

2013 | Henry Luce Foundation Fellowship, Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, School of Law, New York University 

2010 | Richard D. Donchian Faculty Fellowship in Ethics, Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, University of Virginia

Selected Publications

2022. "Concupiscent Curiosity of the Gaze in Medieval Islam: Qur'an  24:30–31." In Curiositas, Miscellanea Mediaevalia, vol. 42, edited by A. Speer. Berlin–Boston: De Gruyter.

2021. "Arabic Literary Prose, Adab Literature, and the Formation of Islamicate Imperial Culture." In The Cambridge History of World Literature, vol. 1, edited by D. Ganguly, 80–108. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2018. The Creation of Philosophical Tradition: Biography and the Reception of Avicenna's Philosophy from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Centuries A.D. Diskurse der Arabistik; 21. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

2003. “The Twelver-Shi'i Reception of Avicenna in the Mongol Period.” In Before and after Avicenna: Proceedings of the First Conference of the Avicenna Study Group. Edited with D.C. Reisman, 219–232. Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Science: Texts and Studies 52. Leiden: Brill.