Origins of Western Social Science

[] When it was first proposed, the idea that there were realms of knowledge, and domains of human activity, OUTSIDE the purview of religion, this idea was vehemently rejected in Europe, where it first arose. However, due to a series of complex historical events, the idea gained strength, and eventually became universally accepted. Today, due to global hegemony of West, we have all absorbed this, without ever thinking seriously about the issue. What possible connection can there be between Chemistry, Physics, Economics, etc. and religion. When Napoleon asked Laplace about how he had written a book about the universe — astronomy and physics — without mentioning the Creator of the universe — he responded – I have no need of that hypothesis. My recent post on the Separation of Worldly and Religious Knowledge  explains this further, and provides links to lectures which explain various aspects of this in much greater detail.

When we study using Western educational models, we also are trained to believe that in the secular subjects, there is no need to mention God. This is actually due to a number of mistakes which were made in the development of social sciences in the West. When the West rejected religion, they also rejected the concept of soul, and even heart, of man. They reduced man to a reasoning machine, a robot. Based on such a seriously faulty model of man, it was impossible to construct healthy theories of human behavior and societies.  Once man is considered to be a soul-less and heart-less computer, THEN it becomes possible to discuss social sciences without thinking about ethics or God. My article on Origins of Western Social Science, explains how social sciences arose in the West as a result of the attempt to answer questions about how humans should behave and how societies should be organized using reason only, rejecting religion. This was a sensible thing to do in the light of the European experience with their religion, which was very bad. I have explained this in my paper on European Transition to Secular Thought.  Unfortunately, Muslims have adopted the same framework and foundations for social sciences, imitating the West, without realizing that the foundations for these subjects are explicitly based on rejecting religious concepts and and on replacing them by secular alternatives which are often deeply in conflict with Islamic ideas. In my paper on  The Origins of Western Social Sciences , I have explained how the project of “Islamization of Knowledge” has failed because Muslim scholars have accepted, unknowingly, foundations anti-thetical to Islam, and have tried to mix two conflicting and contradictory bodies of knowledge – Western Social Science, and Islamic concepts. The first section of my paper is given below”

Abstract for The Origins of Western Social Sciences
On the whole, Muslims have accepted Western claims that both social sciences and physical sciences are equally fact and logic based, and “positive” descriptions of reality. In fact, Western formulations of social sciences hide ethical and social commitments to secular views which conflict the Islamic views. Widespread acceptance by Muslims of these false claims to factuality and objectivity has prevented the development of genuine Islamic alternatives, and has been a serious obstacle to progress in the project of “Islamization of Knowledge”. The goal of this paper is to examine the origins of Western Social Science, and to show how it is based on secular preconceptions antithetical to Islam.
1. Introduction
The project of “Islamization of Knowledge” launched by Al-Faruqi (1982) , Al-Attas (1984) and many others, seeks to transform or modify Western sciences into forms acceptable to Islam, and in conformity with Islamic views. This is paralleled by the effort of Islamization of Western institutions, including financial institutions, many of which are in conflict with Islamic ideas about organizing societies. A serious obstacle to progress in this area has been the uncritical acceptance of certain Western ideas which are in conflict with Islamic ones. This conflict has blocked the emergence of genuinely Islamic alternatives; instead efforts have been diverted to modify Islamic ideas to match dominant Western paradigms of thought. The failure of Muslim scholars to distinguish between social and physical sciences has significantly hindered the project of Islamization of knowledge, which seeks to assimilate Western knowledge in ways compatible with Islam. The West has made spectacular progress in the physical sciences. The results of this progress, in the form of cars, aeroplanes, refrigerators, trains, rockets, skyscrapers, computers, etc. etc. are plainly visible for all to see. The prestige of Western physical science has led Muslims to give Western social science the same respect. However, social science is the study of humans and society. Western denial of God, spirituality, and morality has led to many errors in their formulation of the social sciences. Brilliance in understanding worldly affairs, accompanied by blindness in understanding humans is a common phenomenon. For example, Abu-Jahl was known as Abul-Hakm to his contemporaries. The parable of the one-eyed Dajjal may be a reference to this same phenomenon. According to the Quran:

When it is said to them: “Believe as the others believe:” They say: “Shall we believe as the fools believe?” Nay, of a surety they are the fools, but they do not know. 

This indicates that those regarded as “intelligent” in worldly affairs have difficulties in believing like the simple folks. There is substantial evidence for the thesis that spectacular progress in physical sciences has been accompanied by equally spectacular decline in understanding the meaning of humanity in the West. Just as physical sciences can be judged to be successful by looking at the outcomes, so Western social science can be judged to be a failure by looking at the outcomes in the

There is accumulating evidence for massive moral breakdown in the West in many different dimensions. At the international level, the doctrine of “preventive military action” and US violations of sovereignty under the military doctrine that “you can only claim sovereignty if you enforce it,” represent a return to the law of the jungle.
Research on scientific methods of torture is documented by Klein (2007), and the impact of modernity on mass violence, massacres, genocides and general breakdown of human values is documented in Glover (2001) and Bauman (2001), Society is shaped by families, where children learn what it means to be human and part of society. The breakdown of this fundamental unit of society has been documented in many places, such as a recent report on “Fractured Families” put out by the Social Justice Foundation (2006):
This Report paints a worrying picture of family breakdown in the UK. We now have
one of the highest divorce rates in the Western world and the fabric of family life has
been stripped away in the past thirty years. This study also shows more clearly than
ever the destructive effects of family breakdown upon millions of children, as well as
the links between family breakdown and addictions, educational failure and serious
personal debt.

Consequences of this breakdown are apparent in the Josephson Institute survey (2008) which shows that more than 30% of the 30,000 USA high school students admitted to having stolen from a store, parents or friends. According to the Center for Disease Control, USA also has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world. The vast majorities of approximately a million such pregnancies per year are unintended and have devastating social, economic and health consequences for both the unwed mother and the offspring. When we urge Muslims to study science and technology, it is because the outputs of these endeavors in the form of products and advances are plainly visible. Using the same logic, we should be extremely wary of a social science which has created such massive social disruptions in the West. The results in the form of loss of happiness,
satisfaction, contentment and well-being have been documented in many places; for example “Loss of Happiness in Market Economies” by Lane (2001).

An eighty minute video lecture on Origins of Western Social Science is linked below


Related readings and links are available on the webpage for the lecture: Advanced Microeconomics Lecture 29 Origins of Western Social Science. For a related post about “Science” (not social science), see “The Islamic Origins of Science“.  The paper itself can be viewed or downloaded from SCRIBD, linked below:








This entry was posted in Islamic Knowledge by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

20 thoughts on “Origins of Western Social Science

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  14. Sir. A nice effort to bring into light the dilemma of Islamic world where they found themselves at a cross road. But I would like to say that other religions like Judaism, Hindu-mat and Buddhism have shown perseverance of their core ideas and and modern knowledge. May be it is due to their quality education and mental ability to have a better method of taking advantage but not losing identity.

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