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Materiality and Embodiment

Materiality and Embodiment

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Hans Leonhard Schäufelein (1480-1538), The Parable of the Sower
Of all the topics of interest both to Christian theology and to the natural sciences, few are more important than the related themes of materiality and embodiment. This module approaches those two subjects from a range of perspectives, looking in particular at the way in which matter, and the body, have been conceptualized down history, both theologically and philosophically.

Over the course of four classes, we consider why assumptions about the nature of matter are important for an historical appreciation of theology, starting with a ‘modern’ view, which approaches matter in terms of atoms, and of extension. We then turn to look at pre-modern views of matter, particularly those rooted in Plato and Aristotle, and at theologians they influenced. Here, matter is often understood in relation to form. We will also consider some recent ‘emergentist’ accounts, which can demonstrate some striking parallels with these pre-modern understandings. In the third class, we think about the nature of embodiment in terms of the science and philosophy of ‘embodied cognition’, and its significance for theology. This is to approach cognition as something inherently shaped by our embodiedness, and our experience of action in the world. In the final class, we consider how some of the themes from previous classes play out in systematic theology, concentrating on the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the idea—popular in the Fathers, scholastics, and Aquinas—that it is an ‘accommodation’ of God to humanity.

An interest in natural science is a good prerequisite for this course. However, no specialized knowledge is required or expected. Since modules can occasionally change from year to year, you may wish to speak to the coordinator of this module, , for details of provision in the future.