Dr. Daryoush Mohammad Poor, Research Associate, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London. Part of the conference “Reflections on Ismaili Studies: Standing on Poonawala’s Shoulders.”
This paper is an attempt to demonstrate that the intellectual activities of Ismaili dāʿīs can be seen and explained in light of critical rationalism, at least in a minimal sense. History of Ismaili thought and doctrines, at a cursory glance, suggests that reason has played a vital role in giving potency to Ismaili ideas in their encounters with their rivals, particularly as regards question of the relation between cosmology, science and religion, but this is not simply in case of dealing with ‘others’; it has happened among them too. This point can be best traced in how doctrines have transformed among various Ismaili communities.
The central question remains to be theories of truths. From a critical rationalist perspective, truths are merely true theories of knowledge. Here is where we find the intersection of critical rationalist methods with that of Ismaili thinkers. The regulative idea of truth remains powerful and even though, theoretically, in a community with a central figure and authority of the Imam criticism may be curbed or stifled, we have historical evidence of the flourishing of a critical rationalist ethos among Ismaili dāʿīs in their own dialogues and in their interactions with those outside their community.
In this paper, Poor provides a broad framework which could work as an emancipating and liberating perspective in Ismaili intellectual studies releasing it from the grips of positivist and Orientalist accounts and opening it up to rational and critical approaches reaching into the tradition itself, but not remaining limited or fettered by what was once a driving force in the past.