Medieval Texts for a Modern Audience: The Islamic Translation Series at BYU in Light of Two Early Antecedents

Since the publication of its first volume in 1997, the Islamic Translation Series at Brigham Young University has gained recognition as a significant academic endeavor. From a historical perspective, however, the series, which seeks to make available to a new audience texts from the medieval efflorescence of Islamic civilization, is hardly unprecedented. Indeed, when compared with past undertakings, it is quite modest. This essay traces the outlines of two earlier translation movements, one centered in Baghdad from the mid-eighth to the tenth centuries C.E., the other in Spain during the twelfth century. These movements resulted in the transference and augmentation of scientific and philosophical ideas across cultural and linguistic boundaries as civilizations in transition sought to harness the knowledge of their predecessors. As will be seen, both movements are, in a sense, intellectual ancestors of the scholarly enterprises being carried out today at Brigham Young University.

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