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Res Philosophica

Volume 98, Issue 2, April 2021

Special Issue: Islamic Philosophy and Contemporary Philosophy of Religion

Julie Loveland Swanstrom
Pages 307-330

Illumination of the Heart
Doubt, Certainty, and Knowledge Acquisition in al-Ghazali and Augustine

Though al-Ghazalı is often superficially compared to Descartes, Ghazalı’s epistemological project echoes—in consonance or dissonance—Augustine’s, warranting a clear exploration of the depths of these echoes. For both Augustine and Ghazalı the epistemological and theological quest starts with an interior turn, and divine illumination provides the tools for and content of knowledge. Both recount skeptical leanings resolved by divine illumination; both employ philosophy as a tool in theological disputes; both see knowledge as dynamic and transformative; and both assert that God’s direct illumination is a necessary precursor to and a final capstone upon knowledge. Ghazalı’s use of illumination is more circumscribed and specified than Augustine’s. I argue that Ghazalı and Augustine take similar approaches to the role of divine illumination and the importance of interiority or the subjective grasp on knowledge, but despite these differences, Ghazalı and Augustine deal distinctly with the question of authority and certitude of knowledge.