“Long before the discovery of ambiguity in modern times, Islam followed the idea that ambiguity is something unavoidable, with the idea that it opens new horizons.”
—From A Culture of Ambiguity
This novel approach to the culture and history of Islamic thought earned the author, a professor and director of the Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Münster, Germany, a 2013 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for research. Bauer argues that one’s approach to ambiguity—the ability to debate ideas—is not only cultural but also has been a fundamental aspect of
that has often been overlooked or ignored. Although he focuses on the history of Muslim people, he engages the perspectives of other cultures both to challenge and support his own arguments. For example, during the Golden Age of Islam, Muslim mathematicians, naturalists and philosophers were generally content with uncertainties over fixed truths. By contrast,
, scholars like Rene Descartes maintained that clear and unchanging answers were the only solutions to life’s questions. While his points are interesting and the book has won wide praise, it can be overly dense for the non-specialist reader.