Here’s a radical hypothesis: if we apply core-periphery theory to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, could Scholasticism be reconstrued not, as its generally held to be today, as a distinctly European or Latin Western phenomenon, but as nothing more than Europeans practicing Arabic/Islamic philosophy and science in their own distinctive way?
In other words, is it more historically accurate to characterize the High Middle Ages in Europe as an era defined by the very same process happening now to the non-Western world, namely, the absorption, assimilation, and adaptation by a marginal culture of the intellectual tradition of a dominant one?
Obviously what I’m proposing is, in some regards, a dangerous simplification. However, it could be a useful one nonetheless, insofar as it can used to cast light upon the Western intellectual tradition’s true roots, which often lie more in Arabia than they do in Greece.
Indeed, it raises another interesting question, namely, precisely when and in what form can it be said that a truly distinctive Western tradition emerges? One could argue that this doesn’t actually appear until what is commonly called the Enlightenment and the start of a mechanistic and increasingly atheistic-materialist worldview.
What, then, of the intervening period of the Renaissance? This era can also reconstrued, now as a period defined by a very late form of Scholasticism that sought more “authentic” roots in the Classical past and away from the perceived corruption of the Islamic medium that characterized its earlier phase in Albert Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, et al.
Or to put it another way: the Renaisance was actually the same impulse that compelled Columbus across the Atlantic, namely, striving to find a trade route around Islamic dominance of the world by going directly to the sources of Muslim wealth and success, namely, India and China, except manifested intellectually, directed geo-temporarily and cognitively to the other root of Muslim power, Greece.
Ergo, it’s not until the Enlightenment that the “real” European identity and intellectual tradition finally appears — ultimately culminating in the founding of the United States in North America, a wilderness that was, very literally, a Petri dish for this new collective psyche, where it could experiment with its most radical ideas of human nature, science, and religion.
Hmmmm I smell a possible dissertation…