Spring 2007

SOCS 658
Nature and Spirituality

Ritchey,Sara Margaret

01/22/2007 - 05/05/2007
Thursday 06:30 PM - 09:00 PM

Public Affairs Center 421

In the Middle Ages, the Book of Nature was understood to be a text authored by God as a supplement to the scriptures, and it's purpose was to make the connection between spirituality and creation. Our goal in this course is to explore how the Book of Nature expresses a distinctly medieval approach to the concept of nature as the creation of God, and how it engages the problematic topic of human modification of that creation. We will investigate such topics as twelfth-century philosophical notions of natura, Francis of Assisi's kinship with flora and fauna, the role of gardening in monastic life, and the iconography of trees. Throughout, our emphasis will be on the specifically medieval construction of the natural world and what central social, psychological, and spiritual factors sustained it.

Readings will include: Gregory Stone, The Ethics of Nature in the Middle Ages; Nicole Oresme and the Marvels of Nature, ed. & tr. Bert Hansen; Francis Bacon, The New Organon, ed. Lisa Jardine and Michael Silverthorne; A Source Book in Medieval Science, ed. Edward Grant; David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450; Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry and Belief in the Middle Ages; Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book.

The primary source reading packet includes excerpts from the Bible, Augustine, Alain of Lille, Bernard Sylvester, Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, and others.

Each week there will be a two-page written assignment on the readings due at the beginning of class; at the end of the semester an 8 - 10 page paper on a research problem will be due.

A syllabus for this course is available at:

Sara Ritchey (B.A. Newcomb College, Tulane University; M.A. University of Texas at Austin; Ph.D. University of Chicago) is visiting assistant professor of history. Her research focuses on the spiritual, cultural and intellectual life of medieval Europe. She is currently preparing for publication her research on the use of arboreal imagery as a dominant metaphor in Late Medieval Devotion.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Alain de Lille, PLAINT OF NATURE (PIM), Paperback

Bernard Silvestris, COSMOGRAPHIA OF BERNARDUS SILVESTRIS (Columbia University Press), Paperback


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