The body has been always an object of imagination, literature, science, philosophy and religion. It is the object of health and disease, birth and death, reward and punishment, and is the vehicle of both the divine and the profane. It is at the center of debates on sexuality, gender identities, race, and politics. In this course, we look at how different views on the body and on sexuality developed and changed in the Middle East throughout the medieval period and how they influenced and were influenced by the religious doctrines, the medical theories, the Islamic law, and the intellectual environment of the Islamic Middle Ages. The course addresses these different views and perceptions as manifested in the religious, philosophical, legal, scientific, and literary production of the period. The recorded lectures are from the 2014 Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences course History of Science 108.

Meet The Author

Ahmed Ragab

Ahmed Ragab

Richard T. Watson Assistant Professor of Science and Religion, Harvard Divinity School

Ahmed Ragab joined HDS in July 2011 as the Richard T. Watson Assistant Professor of Science and Religion at Harvard Divinity School. He was a visiting lecturer at the Divinity School for the 2009 fall semester and since 2008 had been a postdoctoral fellow and then lecturer in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard.

A physician, historian, and scholar of the medieval and modern Middle East, with a medical degree from Cairo University and a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science from the Ecole Pratiques des Hautes Etudes in Paris, he was a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Cairo, where he directed the organization's Science and Religion and the History of Science programs. In 2008, he was a researcher for the project "Public Policies, Professional Practices and Agents' Conduct Regarding the Risk of Avian Flu (Egypt, France, India, Niger, UK, Vietnam)." From 2003 to 2007, he served as a physician at the Kasr al-Aini Cairo University Teaching Hospital.

Ragab's work includes the history and development of medieval Islamic sciences, the relationship between science and religion in the medieval and modern Middle East, the history of medieval Islamic hospitals, and the intellectual and cultural history of women in the region. He has completed monographic studies of institutionalization and modernization in medieval and early modern science and medicine within Islamic cultures and he writes on contemporary questions at the foundations of science, religion, and culture. Ragab is also the author of numerous articles and book sections and papers. His book "Al-Qawl al-Sarih fi ilm al-Tashrih: Anatomy, medicine and religion in the Ottoman Middle East" is an edition of a rare manuscript on anatomy from eighteenth-century Ottoman Egypt and is set to appear in 2013.

He is currently completing two book projects: "A Biography of a Hospital: Medicine, Religion and Charity in the Medieval Middle East," which is a study of the medieval Islamic hospital; and "In the Name of God the Healer: Prophetic Medicine in the Medieval and Modern Middle East," a study of the development of prophetic medicine from the medieval to the contemporary period. Ragab is also working on a research project on perceptions of bodies, genders, and sexualities in medical, religious, and cultural views in the Islamic world. He is also a member of the Commission on History of Science and Technology in Islamic Societies.


  • MD
  • PhD Harvard University

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