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Changing the Narrative: from Progress to Balance

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The Old Divinity School, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge

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This seminar is an opportunity for scholars and students to respond to Ahmed Paul Keeler’s original and challenging thesis, which has crystallised during his three-year visiting fellowship at the Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge.

The Centre of Islamic Studies is part of the University of Cambridge and it aims to promote a constructive and critical understanding of the role of Islam and Muslims in wider society in the current global age.

During his visiting fellowship at the Centre of Islamic Studies, Keeler has worked with a number of scholars in various fields, and engaged with both undergraduate and postgraduate students within the University.

He argues that the narrative of progress, centred on scientific and technological development and economic growth, continues to govern the global arena. Yet the reality of progress has long been seriously questioned by scientists, social theorists and philosophers in the West, especially after the unprecedented disasters of the 20th century. With the world continuing to face a multitude of environmental, economic, social and humanitarian crises in the 21st century, and the Islamic world in disarray, he argues for an alternative narrative that can make more sense of our condition.

The focus of his work has been to take as a primary criterion for the ordering of cultures and civilisations the concept of Balance (al-Mīzān). This, he suggests, can be seen as a governing principle within both the Islamic world and China, which together dominated Afro-Eurasia for a thousand years prior to the rise of Europe. He argues that the criterion of Balance provides a new lens through which to view world history, one that rescues the great civilisations from being relegated to the status of mere contributors to Western progress and triumph, and enables us to better understand the true nature and purpose of these civilisations and cultures. The primary focus of his work has been the realisation and universal application of the principle of Balance in the unfolding of Islamic civilisation.

Ahmed Paul Keeler was the founder and director of the celebrated World of Islam Festival of 1976, which was instrumental in introducing the arts and civilisation of Islam to the West. Since then, he has been at the forefront in the shaping of new research paradigms in the reinterpretation of world history. In 2017 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Bolton, “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the understanding of the exchanges and the inter-connection between cultures and civilisations.”

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The Old Divinity School, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge

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