James A. FitzPatrick’s India

James A. FitzPatrick (1894-1980), American movie-maker, is best known for his 200+ short documentary films from around the world. They appeared in two series, Traveltalks and The Voice of the Globe, which he wrote, produced, and directed from 1929-55. Commissioned by MGM, the shorts played before its feature films and were no doubt a mind-expanding experience for many. Some of them are now online at the Travel Film Archive. Nearly eighty years later, what should we make of FitzPatrick and his travel films?

Early Islam, Part 5: Epilogue

Muslims discovered Greek thought hundreds of years before the Western Christians, yet it was the latter who eventually domesticated it. Why did the reverse not happen? Why did the golden age of Islam (roughly 9th-12th centuries)—led by luminaries such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Alhazen, al-Beruni, Omar Khayyam, Avicenna, and Averroës—wither away? Despite a terrific start, why did rationalism fail to ignite more widely in Islam? In this epilogue, I’ll survey some answers that have been offered by historians and highlight one that I consider the most significant.

Early Islam, Part 4: The Mystic Tide

Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, first arose in Syria and Iraq in the eight century CE. Arab conquerors, a century earlier, had taken Islam all over the Near East, which included lands with a long tradition of ascetic thought and eastern Christian monasticism—a tradition that valued religious poverty, contempt for worldly pleasures, and a secret world of virtue beyond that of obedience to law—no doubt encouraged by the fact that for three centuries, until after the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, Christians in the Near East were a minority subject to suspicion and persecution by the pagan Romans.

Early Islam, Part 3: The Path of Reason

Islamic scholars during the golden age of Islam (roughly 9th-12th centuries) widely referred to Aristotle as the ‘First Teacher,’ evidence of the high regard in which they held the ancient Greek philosopher. The man ranked by them as second only to Aristotle was a tenth-century Muslim thinker by the name of Abu Nasr al-Farabi (870-950 CE). [1] Perhaps a good way to illustrate the rational current of early Islam is through the life and times of this important thinker.