The Medieval Survey Class pt. V: Beyond Christianity

Proem

There is a familiar older narrative of medieval philosophy as Christian philosophy. Viewed from that perspective, it is natural to think of the period as running back to its origins in Augustine and forward to its supposed acme in Thomas Aquinas. Although few scholars today conceive of the field that way, the effects of this approach linger in the way we hold onto Augustine (and Boethius) as medieval authors (rather than as figures from late antiquity), and in the way we are still struggling to arrive at a coherent narrative of medieval philosophy after Aquinas.

The effects also linger in the language training we insist on. Of course, there is Latin. But what (aside from English) comes after that? I still remember, as an undergraduate at Penn, holding in my hands for the first time a copy of the old printed Jobs for Philosophers. (Perhaps I should have inserted a trigger warning before now, to let folk know I would be mentioning this old source of so much trauma.) Having already formed the intention to study medieval philosophy, I looked to see what sort of jobs might be available, and found an ad from Catholic University of America, in which they specified that candidates were expected to know Latin, German, and French. This being my first acquaintance with the job market, it naturally imprinted itself upon me, and I have more or less ever since then regarded this as the ideal language training.

It is surely time to say, though, that this is no longer what graduate students in the field should be learning. Even if Latin, for most, is still the most important thing, I think it is now time to tell students that, if they have the ability to do anything beyond Latin, the next language should be Arabic. And I might go further and say that, for students who have not previously had the opportunity to study French or German, it is better not even to take those up, but to put their energies into better Latin and better Arabic. This is a departure from what I have always told my students, but I think it is time to recognize that this is what the current scholarly situation demands.

Back to the Curriculum

My sense of the growing centrality of Arabic corresponds to the broad consensus of scholars in the field that Arabic material belongs on the survey-course curriculum. Of the 30 syllabi we looked at, 24 included Islamic sources, and 15 included Jewish sources. Although I’ve got only my own changing perspective over the years to go on, I feel fairly sure that this reflects a dramatic change in the field’s orientation over the last few decades.  (For those who are shaky on the relation between Arabic and Jewish philosophy, the basic story is that most earlier medieval Jewish philosophy is in Arabic: Isaac Israeli, Ibn Gabirol, Sa‘adia Gaon, Ibn Daud, Ibn Kammūna, Maimonides. After Maimonides, Hebrew becomes the principal language.)

Of course, the challenge of learning Arabic makes it hard for most of us to work on this material at a high level. But it is quite easy to include Arabic (and, more broadly, non-Christian) material into the curriculum. I mentioned in my previous post that Ghazali’s Rescuer from Error is a great text to teach. I just finished a day on Maimonides, which was also great fun. If anything, I would say that there is more accessible material in the Jewish and Muslim traditions than there is in the Christian tradition. For an expert discussion of these issues, see Peter Adamson’s post from last month in the APA Blog. I also wrote a post on this topic a few years back, for this blog, and those old links (including a link to some useful syllabi) are still live.

On the Job Market

There are of course lots of good reasons to include Arabic (and other non-Christian) material in our classes, and you don’t need me to tell you what they are. But there’s one particular issue that might have escaped your attention, which is that the job market is dramatically changing with regard to these issues. Last year there were at least as many jobs focused on medieval Islamic philosophy as there were jobs in medieval Christian philosophy. And the ads that have come out this fall make it clear that this was no fluke. The job at Loyola Marymount, for instance, although it seems to be aimed at an AOS in late medieval Latin/Christian philosophy, explicitly REQUIRES an AOC in “Medieval Arabic Philosophy.” Or consider this AOS at San Jose State University: “History of Philosophy (any historical period). The department welcomes candidates who pursue cross-tradition engagement in doing history of philosophy.” Or this one, from the New College of Florida: “History of philosophy, with expertise in early modern European philosophy and at least one non-European philosophical tradition.” I think we can be fairly confident that, as philosophy departments slowly move to shed their traditionally Eurocentric focus, that we’ll see a lot more of this sort of thing. And that’s great news not just for philosophy in general, but for our field in particular, because it just so happens that we’re working on the one era in which “Western” philosophy was richly engaged with non-European traditions. We need to seize this opportunity with both hands.

Advertisements

Philosophy Jesters in the NYC area?

Not an opportunity that comes along just every day.  This via Stephen Grimm at Fordham:

From: Joseph Biehl <jsbiehl@philosophy.nyc>
Date: Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 12:53 PM
Subject: Looking for medieval philosophers with a sense of humor
To: Stephen Grimm <sgrimm@fordham.edu>

Hi Stephen,

I hope this finds you well. I somehow managed to convince the organizers of the Fort Tryon Medieval Festival (Sunday, September 30th) that it would be a great idea to have a tent where philosophers could engage with festival goers on topics of interest to medieval philosophers. Since it is very likely that costumes would be required, it promises to be an entertaining event. I would appreciate it if you could send this along to your colleagues, or let me know who you think would be interested in that sort of thing.

Cheers,

Joe

Joseph S. Biehl, PhD

Founder & Executive Director

Gotham Philosophical Society and

Young Philosophers of New York

www.philosophy.nyc

Collecting Syllabi!

Before going on my customary summer hiatus, let me make a final request to all of you.  I’ve been thinking about a survey of medieval philosophy that I’m teaching in the fall, and thinking about the canon in medieval philosophy. I’d like to investigate these matters by collecting syllabi from survey classes of medieval philosophy. If you have any such syllabi, I’d be grateful if you’d send them to my collaborator in this project, Mark Boespflug. Send us multiple versions, if you’ve got them. Send us anything that’s in the neighborhood of a “survey” of medieval philosophy. Bear in mind, we’re just interested in the readings that you’ve assigned. But even if you’ve just used a single textbook, send us that (along with which details about which chapters from the textbook you’ve assigned). Assuming we get enough of these to make it worthwhile, we’ll post a tally in the fall of which readings in the field have the greatest claim to being canonical, judged from how often they’re taught.

A great summer to all. I myself am headed down under, to where it’s winter, for a few months. Back in August.

Conferences, Fellowships, CfPs, etc.

Here’s a fairly random collection of information I’ve collected over recent weeks:

  • The Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin – Madison is advertising fellowships for 2018-19. Particularly notable are the Solmsen Fellowships on pre-1700 Europe and the Kingdon Fellowship on Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Applications are due Nov. 2, 2017. Details here.
  • The a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne is advertising a large number of doctoral fellowships. The deadline is November 3, 2017. Details here.
  • The Journée thomiste 2017 is scheduled for November 25 (Paris).
  • The annual Charles Schmitt Prize is on again, in any area of intellectual history after 1500. Deadline is December 31.
  • Martin Klein, Naomi Osorio-Kupferblum, and Oliver Istvan Toth have put out a call for papers on consciousness in medieval and early modern philosophy of mind, to be published in a special issue of the Romanian journal Society and Politics. The deadline is March 31, 2018. Details here.
  • There’s a conference on the Calculatores tradition in Munich next spring (May 23-25, 2018). Details here.
  • Leuven is hosting a conference on Theories of Causal Powers in the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Century (June 1-2, 2018). CfP deadline February 15, 2018.
  • Leuven is also hosting a conference next summer on Marsilius of Padua (July 6-7, 2018). Details here. CfP deadline December 31, 2017.
  • Groningen is hosting a conference on Substance in Early Modern Scholasticism (June 4-5, 2018).
  • The third Symposium Thomisticum will be held in Athens next summer on the theme Aquinas and the Greeks (June 7-9, 2018). CfP deadline December 1, 2017.
  • The Thomas Institute in Utrecht has announced a conference on Initiation and Mystagogy in Thomas Aquinas: Theological, Philosophical, Liturgical, and Pedagogical Perspectives (December 13-15, 2018). CfP deadline March 1, 2018.
  • The Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy has a handsome new web page with much information about the Society.
  • There’s a wonderful interview with James South (Marquette) at the APA blog.

New Postdoc, and Job Roundup

St. Andrews is now advertising a three-year postdoc on editions and translations of fourteenth-century logical texts. Details here. Application deadline is February 17.

Here too is a summary of the medieval positions that were listed on philjobs this past fall. This is for those readers who might like to have a summary report, but who were blissfully able to ignore the job market as it unfolded.

1. Sacred Heart University
Junior Faculty
AOS: Medieval or Early Modern
AOC: Open

2. Seattle University
Assistant Professorship
AOS: Medieval
AOC: Open

3. Seton Hall University
Assistant Professorship
AOS: Medieval or Ethics (but must be qualified to teach upper division medieval philosophy)
AOC: Feminist Philosophy

4. Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Old Dominion University
Islamic Studies – Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies (Tenure-track or similar)
AOS: Islamic Studies
AOC: Medival Philosophy/Philosophy of Religion

5. University of Southern Maine
Assistant Professor of Philosophy (Tenure-track or similar)
AOS: Philosophy of Religion, Comparative Religion
AOC: Medieval Philosophy, Islamic Philosophy, Asian Philosophy

6. Providence College
Assistant Professor (Tenure-track or similar)
AOS: Medieval Arabic Philosophy
AOC: Open

7. NUI Maynooth
Assistant Lecturer (Fixed term)
AOS: Medieval Philosophy, Logic, Philosophy of Religion
AOC: Moral and Political Philosophy

New Postdocs

Here are three post-doc positions that have been newly advertised over the last few weeks: