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Did Muslim Physicians Advance beyond Greek Medicine?
Popular and scholarly accounts of Islamic medicine often claim that pre-modern physicians in Islamic societies never questioned the fundamentals of Galenic physiology. On occasions when they acknowledge specific departures from Galenic theory, such as Ibn al-Nafīs's (d. 1288) proposal of the pulmonary transit of blood, the new theories are either mischaracterized as being identical to modern theories, or deemed aberrations that had no impact on subsequent medical discourse in Islamic societies. In this talk, Dr. Fancy will show how to understand the developments in medical theory and their impact on modern medicine with greater historical nuance. More importantly, he will show that during the Mamluk period novel theoretical results gave rise to interesting new trajectories of physiological investigation. These trajectories, in turn, had a significant impact on Renaissance physicians, albeit the latter's theories were not entirely anticipated by their Islamic predecessors. To further support his argument, Dr. Nahyan Fancy will use examples from the physiological discussions on pulse and embryonic development.
Dr. Nahyan Fancy is an Associate Professor of Middle East/Comparative History at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, USA. His research interests are in pre-1500 science and medicine, and intellectual history. His monograph, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt: Ibn al-Nafīs, Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection, was published last year by Routledge. It examines the intersections of philosophy, theology and medical physiology in the works of Ibn al-Nafis, a 13th century physician-jurist who first posited the pulmonary transit of blood-a result that provided the basis for William Harvey's (d. 1657) theory of blood circulation. More recently, he has been examining the evolution of medical commentaries in post-1250 Islamicate societies, with an eye towards learning more about the specific trajectory of theoretical medicine in these societies and their appropriation by Renaissance scholars in Latin Europe.
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