Joseph Vignone

Joseph Vignone

Graduate Fellow
Bodies of Knowledge: Medicine, Memory and Enhancement in Islam
Joseph Vignone


Joseph Leonardo Vignone is a PhD candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His dissertation focuses on the medical practices promoted by Arabic ethical literature between 900 and 1400 as they relate to the enhancement of Muslim scholars’ intellectual capacities. He received bachelor degrees in History and Theology from Fordham University in 2011, an MTS in Islamic Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 2013, and an AM in Islamic Intellectual History from GSAS in 2015. Joseph’s wider research interests include the concept of certainty in Islamic prophetic history, gender and sexuality in Islamic societies and the medical practices of the late-medieval Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.

Project Summary

The practice of ethics among the medieval Islamic intellectual elite, or ulema, encompassed discourses concerned with promoting the health and mental fitness of scholars. In his dissertation, "Bodies of Knowledge: Medicine, Memory and Enhancement in Islam," Joseph examines one such medical discourse articulated through ādāb, an Arabic ethical genre written by Muslims from the tenth century onward. This literature is dedicated to expressing the normative behavior and habits to be cultivated by the ulema. Moreover, as an arena in which the ulema proposed their own identity as scholars, debated the practices constituting that identity and addressed any tensions detected within it, ādāb offers consistent insight into the ethical and professional ideals developed by these individuals through the early-modern period. At I Tatti, Joseph is conducting research on an aspect of this genre that directs considerable attention toward a controversial practice in Islamic scholarly society: the ingestion of substances to manipulate and enhance important intellectual capacities related to the memory. Joseph is also exploring how the use of such therapies by ulema of the era corresponded to practices popular in later humanist circles across the Mediterranean. He hopes to join historians of Renaissance Italy in describing the web of textual inheritances and ethical commitments that connected early-modern scholarly elites living in Europe with those living in the Middle East.