“We’re stuck in the paradigm of thinking about the self or consciousness solely through the lens of neuroscience, various cognitive sciences, and psychology. We no longer think about the ethical barriers that might actually prevent you from having true self knowledge. We only think about rational processes, mostly through the processes of the brain which we presume are enough to have self knowledge. This is very antithetical to Islam, and I venture also to say to ancient Greek ideas of the self as well, where the self’s perception of itself was interrelated with epistemology and ethics.”
—Muhammad U. Faruque
In this podcast, Muhammad U. Faruque speaks with Esmé Partridge on his recently published book, Sculpting the Self: Islam, Selfhood, and Human Flourishing, which examines notions of selfhood and subjectivity before and in the modern period. Faruque refutes the notion that “the self” is a modern European invention by illustrating how discussion of the self was widespread and dynamic prior to the modern period, particularly in the world of Islam, Christianity, and platonic philosophy. However, important differences do emerge between the modern and non-modern conceptions of selfhood that hinge on the role of ethics and the place of God in sculpting the self. Partridge and Faruque also raise the provocative notion that postmodern thinkers such as Michel Foucault, despite their fundamental disagreement with religious metaphysics, offer a cogent critique of empirical notions of the self that believers would do well to pay attention to.
Muhammad U. Faruque’s research lies at the intersection of religion, science, philosophy, and literature, especially in relation to the Islamic intellectual tradition. His highly acclaimed book Sculpting the Self (University of Michigan Press, 2021) addresses “what it means to be human” in a secular, post-Enlightenment world by exploring notions of selfhood and subjectivity in Islamic and non-Islamic literatures, including modern philosophy and neuroscience. Faruque is Inayat Malik Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Esmé L. K. Partridge is a writer on Islamic philosophy, theology, and the dynamics between tradition and modernity in a secular age. She has previously written for The Royal Society of Arts, Muslim Institute, ArabLit Quarterly, and The Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, among others, and has appeared on several podcasts including Everyday Muslim’s series on the lives of British Muslims, of which she is the presenter.