Neal A. Maxwell Institute Hosts Conference on Avicenna

There are few figures in the history of Islamic thought whose stature can rival that of Ibn Sina (980—1037), or Avicenna, as he came to be known in the Latin West. Educated at Bukhara, in modern-day Uzbekistan, Avicenna was, by his own admission, a prodigy and recognized as such early on. If there is a certain lack of modesty in his making that claim, there is no disputing that he had the credentials to back it up. He was forced by the turbulent politics of his day to move a number of times, but through it all he never stopped practicing medicine or writing treatises in his native Persian, as well as in Arabic. Avicenna’s output was massive, and his many contributions to fields as diverse as medicine, philosophy, and mysticism were groundbreaking and precedent setting and remain influential (and sometimes controversial) to this day.

Recently, a group of specialists on Avicenna gathered under the auspices of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute to assess aspects of Avicenna’s natural and metaphysical philosophies and their historical influence. The occasion for the conference, which was funded by a generous donation from Brent Beesley, was the publication, in two large volumes, of the complete text and translation of Avicenna’s Physics of "The Healing" in the Islamic Translation Series—part of the Institute’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI). Jon McGinnis, the translator of the Physics and professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, joined with other colleagues for three days of presentations and discussions, moderated by Daniel C. Peterson, editor in chief of METI, and D. Morgan Davis, who serves as its director. The list of other presenters included scholars from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Egypt, Finland, the UK, and the US, including James Siebach from Brigham Young University’s Department of Philosophy.

The conference took place in the mountain setting of Park City, Utah, and at the BYU campus. By all accounts the meetings were stimulating and productive, so much so that on the concluding day of the conference all in attendance agreed that the various presentations should be compiled for publication, with Peterson and Davis as the volume editors. Discussions are now under way with a major academic publisher to bring that plan to fruition in the coming year.