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Toby E. Huff was born in Portland, Maine, on April 24, 1942. He was trained as a sociologist but has been increasingly drawn to questions in the history, philosophy and sociology of science. Those inquiries led him to undertake Max Weber-inspired studies of the Arab and Muslim world, as well as China, including field work in Malaysia.
He is best known for his book The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West.
Huff earned a B.A. from Northeastern University, a Master's from Northwestern University, and his Ph.D. from The New School For Social Research in 1971. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey (1978-79) and prior to that was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley working with Robert Bellah.
Huff has been a Visiting Scholar at the National University of Singapore, the University of Malaya, and the Max Weber College in Erfurt, Germany. He taught sociology for thirty-four years at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth before becoming Chancellor Professor Emeritus in 2005. Since then he has been a Research Associate in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University.
At the New School Huff's mentor was Benjamin Nelson  who was then taking up " the Needham Question," the question of why modern science arose only in the West and not in China. Influenced by Nelson but also Robert Merton, Huff continued that line of inquiry that resulted in The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West. It has been translated into Arabic, Turkish, Korean and Chinese. It is still being used in classroom teaching seventeen years after its first publication. By exploring questions in the history of science in the Arab-Muslim world, Huff further extended questions initially raised by R. K. Merton about religious and institutional factors supporting 17th century science in England. By questioning the cultural embeddedness of science in Islamic culture and civilization, Huff also stimulated controversy.
That discussion has been taken a step further by exploring evidence of scientific curiosity in China, Mughal India, and the Ottoman Empire in comparison to Europe in the seventeenth century. The results of that inquiry are in his Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution. A Global Perspective.
Early in his career Huff was influenced by a number of philosophers of science, especially N.R. Hanson and Karl Popper. That intersection of questions in the philosophy and history of science is seen in his contribution to the Karl Popper Centenary volume: The Open Society, Metaphysical Beliefs , and Platonic Sources of Reason ad Rationality.