Since 1888 the Gifford Lectureship has provided many of the world’s most distinguished and original thinkers (scientists as well as philosophers and theologians) with a public platform to express their views on ‘the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term— in other words, the knowledge of God.’ Gifford Lecturers at Edinburgh have included James, Bergson, Frazer, Eddington, Niebuhr and Bultmann. The 1981 lecturer, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, is the leading scholarly interpreter of Sufism, that manifestation of the Islamic faith that shares with Christian mysticism a common debt to Neoplatonism, and whose goal is spiritual union with God. Dr. Nasr directs his lectures precisely to Adam Gifford’s original remit— ‘the knowledge of God’. He asserts the intellectual and spiritual impoverishment of Western contemporary culture, and attributes this to the eclipse of the Sacred content of knowledge, brought about by its total secularisation. Modern man’s reduction of knowledge to what conforms to logic and to reason is contrasted, both with the medieval distinction between ratio and the higher plane of intelkctus, and with related concepts in the traditions of Christianity and Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. But since the West, he believes, has allowed its springs of Sacred Knowledge to dry up, it is to the traditions of the Orient that Western man must turn, and is turning, for enlightenment.


Seyyed Hossein Nasr

(b. 1933)

Seyyed Hossein Nasr was born in Tehran, where he received his early education. He studied in the West and gained his BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his MA and PhD from Harvard University, where he studied the History of Science and Learning with special concentration on Islamic science and philosophy. In 1958, he returned to Iran to teach at Tehran University, where he was Professor of the History of Science and Philosophy. In 1962 he was visiting lecturer at Harvard University, and he taught there during the summer of 1965. During 1964-65, he was the first holder of the Agha Khan Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut. He also served as Vice Chancellor of Tehran University and Chancellor of the Arya-Mehr University of Technology in Iran. He was the founder and first President of the Iranian Academy of Philosophy and is presently University Professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University, Washington D. C. and President of the Foundation for Traditional Studies. Professor Nasr has lectured in America, Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, Japan, and Australia and was the first Muslim Scholar to deliver the Gifford Lectures. He is the author of over twenty-five books and five hundred articles in Persian, English, Arabic and French. His works have appeared in more than ten languages. His important contribution is three generations of scholars he has trained in the course of his fifty-year scholarly career in Iran and the West.


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