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Dehellenization

The meaning of «dehellenization»

Dehellenization refers to a disillusionment with forms of Greek philosophy that emerged in the Hellenistic Period, and in particular to a rejection of the use of reason. The term was first used in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech "Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections," to refer to attempts to separate Christianity from Greek philosophical thought.[1] Subsequently, the term figured prominently in Robert R. Reilly's book The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, to refer to what Reilly characterized as "the religion of Islam's divorce from reason and rationality." The extent and significance of dehellenization in both the Christian and Islamic religious traditions continues to be widely disputed.

In fact, the term had been used earlier by Leslie Dewart, in his 1966 book "The Future of Belief: Theism in a World Come of Age."

The Hellenistic Period begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the emergence of the Roman Empire.[2] For the purpose of defining dehellenization, the Hellenistic Period is known for the emergence of a number of philosophical theories, including Peripateticism, Epicureanism, Pyrrhonism, Academic Skepticism, Cynicism, and Stoicism, among others. An underlying element common to all of these schools of thought is an emphasis on human rationality and the ability to reason.[3]

Pope Benedict XVI argues that several key ideas in Christian thought reveal the hellenization of Christianity:

Although Jesus's followers were reluctant to succumb to the Hellenistic rulers' attempts to force them into Greek idolatry and customs, the Pope argues that they were nevertheless able to extract the most enriching element of Hellenistic thought, namely that man has not only the ability but also the obligation to think rationally.[6]

The conquest of Persia and parts of Central Asia by Alexander the Great beginning in 330 BC was accompanied by an extensive dissemination of Greek culture and thought beyond the Mediterranean area. Although Persia was eventually reclaimed by the Persians, Hellenistic influence continued in the area.[7]

According to Reilly, most of the fusion of Islamic and Greek philosophy occurred between 660 and 750 AD when the Umayyad dynasty came to possess Sassanid (Persian) and Byzantine territories that were heavily populated by Greco-Christians and contained many Hellenistic centers of learning.[8] Initially attracted to Greek thought for medicinal and mathematic purposes, many Muslims began to explore other aspects of Hellenism, in particular philosophy.[9]

According to Reilly, the primary cause of the dehellenization of Islam was the rise of the Ash'arite sect and decline of the Mu'tazila sect in the ninth and tenth centuries.[10] The Mu’tazalites adopted the belief that man must be free, because without freedom, he would be unable to know God’s justice. Consequently, man was free and obligated to interpret sacred texts in the context of his time. The Mu’tazalite premise that the Qur'an was created implies that it is subject to reason, in contradiction to the orthodox belief that the Qur'an is eternal.

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