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Gesture, Perception, Event


Whilst the Middle Ages were influenced by Greek philosophical traditions which regarded truth and science as an abstraction from matter, time, body and contingency, at the same time the central doctrine of Christianity, that of the Incarnation, suggested that truth has been fully manifested in one particular time, as one particular embodied person. Here, truth is as much a performative manifestation as a theoretical indication of the universal. It also consists in Christ’s deeds and gestures (for example, the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday) as much as in his words. Later Christian thought tended to resolve this tension in terms of a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural levels of understanding. But this was less true of earlier Christian thought which made no abrupt distinction between philosophy and theology, or between metaphysics and liturgical illumination. Hence, the Greek pagan and Biblical traditions tended to be seen as mutually interfering. Furthermore, the notion of a ritual and performative dimension to truth was not wholly alien to the later tradition.

This MPhil module investigates this mutual interference in the High to Late Middle Ages. Seminars will focus on a selection of Latin, Italian and English primary sources that range between literary, devotional and philosophico-theological modes as a main focus, with associated readings. The first two seminars introduce the main research questions under consideration in the course as a whole.