The Medieval Interfaith History of Mathematics

The Medieval Interfaith History of Mathematics

Few people who study mathematics in grade school get any inkling of its rich cultural and spiritual history. In particular, the story of how modern mathematics developed in the Middle Ages throughout the Middle East and Europe is a story of cooperation among people of faiths that are often seen as being in conflict: Catholicism, Judaism and Islam. The rich cultural exchange traced the development of the discipline, even as controversies raged over whether mathematics was a frivolous distraction from faith or a gateway toward it. The interfaith origins of mathematics shows that there can never be a “culture-free” science, but on the contrary, religion gives us rich insights into the inspiration for complex rules and formulae. (The presentation starts at about 7 minutes in).

Dr. Victor J. Katz is Professor of Mathematics emeritus at the University of the District of Columbia. He has long been interested in the history of mathematics and its use in teaching. He is the author of a well-regarded college textbook, A History of Mathematics: An Introduction, and a history of algebra, Taming the Unknown (with Karen Parshall) (2014). He is the editor of two sourcebooks: The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Islam: A Sourcebook (2007) and Sourcebook in the Mathematics of Medieval Europe and North Africa (2016), with the latter including extensive material on medieval Hebrew mathematics. Professor Katz was the founding editor of Convergence, the Mathematical Association of America’s online magazine on the history of mathematics and its use in teaching.

(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. “How Religion in Medieval Times Shaped the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic Study of Mathematics”, a talk given at Temple Mount Sinai on June 10, 2021, is the third in the series Higher Meanings: Connecting Religion and Mathematics. The next event in this series, “Mathematics, Computing, Ethics and Religion: From Naïve “Contradictions” to Deep Agreement,” featuring Dr. Olga Kosheleva and Dr. Vladik Kreinovich, will be on at 6:30PM MT). 

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