A Slow Medieval Course, with Christine de Pizan

Here’s a guest post on the medieval survey class from Scott Williams (UNC Asheville). Scott sent me an email with some of these thoughts, and I thought it was so interesting that I asked him to write it up in a form I could post.

I have been enjoying Bob’s series of posts on syllabi in Medieval Philosophy. When the call went out for these I was teaching a course called “Islamic Philosophy” and so I sent in that syllabus. I also teach a course called “Medieval Philosophy” that’s more general. I want to say two things about what I learned recently in teaching the Medieval Philosophy course.

First, in the past I taught this course by covering lots of authors from different times and traditions (Pagan Neo-Platonists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims). In Spring 2018 I tried an experiment – I slowed things way down. This decision was inspired in part by the book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy that I had read with other faculty members in other departments. I developed a short list of authors, and students spent more time on those authors than they would have in a standard survey. When the course was over and I read the Course Evaluations, I found that students gave the course the highest scores that can be given in numerous categories. Students wrote that they really really appreciated the slow approach. They were tired of “whiplash” courses. In my judgement, these students came to understand the authors much more than past students had. They came to see how different parts of a philosopher’s texts fit together. It’s one thing for students to learn discrete facts about e.g., Al-Farabi on the moral virtues, it’s another thing for students to see how this moral theory fits into an overall model of the place of human beings in the cosmos and in political life. So, instead of having students read only Part 1 (as found in Philosophy in the Middle Ages) of Al-Farabi’s The Political Regime (also called The Principles of Existing Things), they read Part 1 and Part 2.

Here’s one way, among many ways, that slowing down the medieval philosophy course can look. There are many other authors/texts that can be used. (Note: I teach Maimonides in my Islamic Philosophy Course and in some semesters he’s in the general Medieval Phil. course.) This is but one suggestion:

Required Texts:

  1. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Joel C. Relihan. Hackett, 2001.
  2. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies and Other Writings. Trans. Ineke Hardy. Hackett, 2018.
  3. Al-Farabi, The Political Writings, Volume 2. Trans. Charles E. Butterworth. Cornell University Press, 2015.
  4. Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Happiness, Treatise on Human Acts, Trans. Thomas Williams, commentary by Christina van Dyke and Thomas Williams. Hackett, 2016.
  5. John Marenbon, Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Univ. Press, 2016
  6. Document on Moodle (includes Porphyry’s Isagoge. I am contemplating whether to have 2 weeks on Porphyry in the future; we’d likely read On Abstinence from Killing Animals. This contrasts nicely with Boethius’s Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius on the rationality condition for ‘persona’).


  • 1 1/2 weeks on Augustine, with 1 day on Porphyry
  • 2 1/2 weeks on Boethius (we read all of The Consolation of Philosophy, and, Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius (personhood is the main topic; in a forthcoming publication I argue that Boethius likely invents personhood as a distinct general category (it’s in Person: A History, ed. Antonia LoLordo (OUP))
  • 2 weeks on Christine de Pizan (read most of The Book of the City of Ladies, plus selections from other texts- see the powerpoint for references)
  • 3 weeks on Al-Farabi (we read all of The Political Regime, plus other texts)
  • 6 weeks on Aquinas (we read all of the Treatise on Happiness, Treatise on Human Acts with Commentary)


Second, in most standard surveys of Medieval Philosophy we find no women taught.  (I found no women in Bob’s earlier posted list of commonly taught authors, for example.) This is not good, and for several reasons. My attempt to address this was to spend a week on the early 15th c. philosopher Christine de Pizan. Many of my students loved reading her. And, her texts allowed me to address some of the social contexts of medieval (esp. scholastic) philosophers. The way I framed her The Book of the City of Ladies was that it is Christine’s “summa” in defense of the feminine sex against centuries and centuries of sexism. I had a very positive experience in teaching Christine and plan to continue to teach her in the future and more of her texts. (Hackett has recently published a new translation of Christine de Pizan; so we have a reasonably priced new text to assign.) (I gave a lecture to a general humanities course recently on Christine, and covered highlights of the sorts of things that I discussed in Medieval Philosophy. I’ve attached the powerpoint here.)

Peter Adamson has two podcasts on CdP, here and here.

I’m writing all this because Bob has been talking to/with those of us who teach Medieval Philosophy, and I thought I should say that we need to teach philosophers who happen to be women too. Not just because they are women, but because they have interesting and important things to say and that we need to learn. My students got more interested in medieval philosophy by reading e.g., Christine de Pizan. By keeping it a male-only affair, I believe we signal to our students that we professors are either ignorant of women philosophers or that we don’t believe they are important enough to teach.

Hopefully in a few years time we will find the most popular medieval philosophy textbook that is assigned in our survey courses to include philosophers like Christine de Pizan. It’s a good idea, and for many good reasons.


News of All Sorts

Here’s a bunch of news items I’ve been collecting for some time now, which means that some of these entries are rather old news:

  • As of this fall, Catarina Dutilh Novaes has left Groningen to take up a position at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam.
  • This past summer, Francis Feingold won the SMRP Founder’s Award (best paper by a younger scholar) for “Aquinas’s Discussion of Aristotle’s Claim That Knowing Does Not Alter the Knower.” Honorable mention went to Fedor Benevich, Joseph Stenberg, and Nicolas Faucher.
  • Also over the summer, the Vatican announced the opening of the digital Vatican Library, with 15,000 some manuscripts currently available (out of a total collection, in case you were wondering, of 80,000 codices).
  • Scott Williams has compiled an online bibliography for Henry of Ghent. It runs to 156 pages. (Actually, although the bibliography is what Scott asked me to advertise, it’s just one among many very useful things pertaining to Henry of Ghent that are assembled on this web page.)
  • Scott also said: just like Tobias Hoffmann’s online bibliography for John Duns Scotus. So check that out too. It runs to 396 pages.
  • While I’m on the subject of bibliographies, Thérèse Bonin continues to keep her Aquinas in English bibliography up to date, though it now has a new URL.
  • Someone else who’s been doing amazing work online is Jeffrey Witt (Loyola Univ. Maryland). A good place to start is with his Scholastic Commentaries and Texts Archive. But that’s really just the start. He’s working toward a comprehensive initiative that would enable cooperative open access publishing ventures aimed at scholastic texts.
  • For a very different sort of online presence, check out — if you haven’t already — Martin Lenz’s blog. He’s been steadily posting, for the last five months, on all sorts of topics, but especially on the history of philosophy.
  • I mentioned this a few years ago, but since it continues to grow, let me mention again that Dag Hasse and colleagues continue to build an online Arabic and Latin Glossary, aimed to offer a comprehensive guide to the vocabulary used in medieval Latin translations of Arabic texts (philosophical, medical, scientific).
  • Finally, in honor of Thanksgiving in this part of the world, our friends at the Franciscan Institute are offering 40% off all of their publications this weekend: Nov. 23 – Nov. 26. Use the code THANKS18. It’s a great opportunity to acquire some essential volumes in any medieval philosophical library.

Mostly Conferences

First, news about a funding opportunity:

  • Laurent Cesalli has received a major grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation for a four-year project on forms of realism in the medieval tradition as compared to the Austrian-German tradition. He has funds for two postdocs and a doctoral student. The project requires scholarly background in both the medieval and later German tradition, and so language skills in both Latin and German. The project starts in April 2019, and interested parties should contact Laurent directly.

Next, a graduate seminar this spring:

  • The Newberry Library (Chicago) is offering a 10-week graduate seminar this spring on Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and its reception, taught by Ian Cornelius (Loyola Chicago). For students at a great many American universities, there looks to be some funding to support attendance. The application deadline is TOMORROW (November 12, 2018). Seminar dates are January 11 – March 15, 2019.

Finally, various conferences:

  • This coming week, there’s a conference in Bonn on Peter Thomae’s De ente (Universität Bonn, November 16-17, 2018).
  • Journées thomistes 2018 takes place in a few weeks, on the topic Le corps humain selon Thomas d’Aquin : nature et destinée (Paris, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018).
  • Marleen Rozemond and Brian Embry are organizing a conference this spring on Varieties of Unity in Early Modern Philosophy. This is relevant on this blog because the call expressly invites contributions on late-scholastic authors (Groningen, April 12-13, 2019). Cfp deadline is January 10, 2019.
  • Jamal Rachak (Univ. Cadi Ayyad, Marrakesh) is organizing a symposium this coming April on Philosophy in the Islamic West (Marrakesh, April 25-26, 2019). The call for papers deadline is November 30, 2018. Details here.
  • Peter Hartman and Kristen Irwin are organizing a conference, Francisco Suárez: Predecessors and Successors, for the spring (Loyola Univ. Chicago, April 26-27, 2019). Note that some funding is available for would-be participants. Application deadline December 31, 2018.
  • The International Medieval Society Paris is holding an interdisciplinary conference on Time next summer (Paris, July 8-10, 2019). Cfp deadline is November 30, 2018.