For half a millennium Central Asia was the center of the world, with a booming economy, vital urban life, and an intellectual life that bridged antiquity and the Renaissance.

 

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Covering 1500 years, S. Frederick Starr’s book delves into the history of Central Asia. Mr. Starr speaks of Rumi and his family, addressing conflicting stories of the mystic. Mr. Starr discussed the many great historical accomplishments of the region, including the transcription and editing of Buddhist religious texts into Chinese and the creation of the alphabet. He also noted the current lack of knowledge and miseducation of high school children today, and its effect in this region on achievements in mathematics, physics, pharmaceuticals, astronomy, ethnography, atheism, and philosophy. The rich background of the Arab world is key to this talk; the variety of religions, zoroastrianism and the presence of Alexander the Great. This amalgamation of cultures led to central Asia to become the epicenter of religions intellectually and unparalleled enterprise. Strong trade ties and a passion to create, rather than import, led to the region becoming a vast silk exporter and the creators of cotton paper. This vibrant intellectual and cultural world was a victim of religious controversy. The long period of prosperity and scientific thought was brought to an end by the presence of an increasingly tightly orthodox population. This suspicion hindered the pursuance of scientific research as it was increasingly believed that the Qur’an exclusively held the answers to all life’s questions. Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age From The Arab Conquest To Tamerlan is making the history of central Asia relevant today and can be seen as a source of inspiration and as a tool to address the current ignorance concerning the important role this region played in the formation of our modern world.

S. Frederick Starr is the chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at SAIS. A former president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute, he was also founding chairman of the Kennan Institute in Washington and established the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the principal non-governmental funder of post-Katrina recovery in that city. He began his career in classical archaeology and has published 22 books. He is a trustee of the Nazarbayev University and was involved in planning four other universities in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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