Kalam Research & Media organized its first Soul and the Unseen Working Group meeting on Saturday 31st May until Sunday 1st January 2014. The 2-day meeting was held at the Chicago Theological Seminary that is located in the University of Chicago campus and therefore a congenial venue for the group’s first meeting.
Sohail Nakhooda, representing KRM, opened the meeting by giving an overview of the main aims of the working group and the Soul and the Unseen group in particular. Dr Steffan Stelzer elaborated then the direction of the first meeting. Out of all the working groups, the subject of the Soul and the Unseen is probably one of the most difficult ones for the Islamic Analytic Theology initiative as it pertains to issues that can all too often boxed under the category of the supernatural and then dismissed by scientists and philosophers alike. For the religious scholar, the challenge is how to articulate the experience and existence of such phenomena and elaborate on his manifestation and complexity within a conceptual nomenclature that is also analytical and scientific and begin a dialogue between these two modes of understanding.
Given the originality of this task, the participants of this working group spend considerable time discussing and probing both the scope and goal of the three working group meetings and the essays that need to be prepared.
The participants also presented papers and more specific reflections in order to focus the discussion: Dr Wan Suhaimi’s presentation on the reality and nature of the human soul was read by Professor Steffan Stelzer as Dr Suhaimi was unable to obtain a visa for the US; Dr Eric Geoffroy, a leading French scholar based at the University of Strasburg spoke on the understanding of the soul in Sufism; Dr Yamina Mermer, a physicist based in the US and expert on the writings of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, spoke on Qur’anic and Prophetic tradition on the Soul; Dr Steffen Stelzer from the American University of Cairo spoke on the Soul and its disciples, highlighting the complexity of terminology related to the Soul since Plato and tracing the discussions to the Islamic tradition; Dr Aaron Spevack from Colgate University spoke on the soul in the Kalam tradition; and Dr Umar Faruq Abdullah from the Muslim Theological Seminary in Chicago placed the issue in a wider context of understanding the supernatural and the natural within a wholistic and integrated system.
The discussions after each presentation were very robust, studying also the criticisms that have been developed on concepts such as the soul from neuroscience, philosophy and science. It was agreed that conceptual precision and analytic clarity was required in dealing with such topics.
The group members agreed on a timetable for submission of the first drafts and a structure for continuous engagement and collaboration between them. The group also visited the University of Chicago campus and agreed to hold the next meeting in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. The participants thanked KRM, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Muslim Theological Seminary for making the initiative possible and also the Chicago Theological Seminary for allowing the group use of the venue.