Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fall and Winter 2017 Lecture Topics

Our History, Philosophy, & Theology Group met on selected Tuesday evenings September, October, November, and December.

September 19, Tues (7 pm): Life Atop a PillarSimeon Stylites spent 37 years of his life on top of a pillar near the city of Aleppo, Syria, during the 5th century AD. We'll look at why anyone would do such a thing in context, consider the appeal of the extreme ascetic life, and how it resulted in impressive "spiritual power" that allowed Simon and his fellow ascetics to overturn and destroy reverence for the old pagan gods, whose traditions and shrines had existed for centuries and millennia.

October 3, Tues (7 pm): Neither Holy, Nor Roman, Nor an EmpireBy the time it was unceremoniously extinguished by Napoleon in 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was a curious relic. Decried as "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire" the entity's very existence seemed self-contradictory in the modern world. We'll look at the entity's history to see how it once had legitimately been the Empire, Roman, and holy in the Middle Ages, only to outlive the Medieval definition of these words when the idea of universals was abandoned in the wake of nationalism.

October 10, Tues (7:30 pm): Movie Night: "The Name of the Rose" (1986). No formal presentation, but we’ll take a break and watch the film, “The Name of the Rose,” which is a mystery set against a transformational time in the Middle Ages, as the West begins to recover the works of Aristotle and has to reconcile his philosophy with Christian theology.

October 17, Tues (7:30 pm): Mapping Christian SchismChristianity may be the world’s largest religion, but it’s anything but unified.  How did we get from a tiny Jewish reform movement in the hinterland of the Roman Empire to the present diversity of thousands of denominations and sects?  The presentation will attempt to map out connections and divisions using original diagrams.

October 24, Tues (7:30 pm): World's Apart: Comparing Medieval World Maps from Norman Sicily and England. The Normans conquered two great island kingdoms in the Middle Ages: England and Sicily. Their courts produced two great mapping traditions, represented by the Hereford Mappamundi in England and the maps accompanying Idrisi's "Book of Roger" in Sicily. We will use these two different traditions to paint contrasting pictures of the worldviews each represents.  

November 7, Tues (7:30 pm): Plato, Aristotle, and Christianity. As its history is often told, Christianity is an offshoot of ancient Judaism, which spread through the Roman Empire alongside other Eastern mystery religions prior to its great success with the conversion of Constantine. We'll look at the surprising degree of continuity between pagan Roman philosophy and Christian Roman theology and ask the degree to which Plato and Aristotle should be listed among Christianity's founders.

November 14, Tues (7:30 pm): Examining the Ontological Argument for God. Anselm of Canterbury was one of the greatest thinkers of the Middle Ages whose work was crucial in the revival of logic and philosophy in the Medieval West. Using logical argument, Anselm created a proof for the existence of God called the "ontological argument."  We'll consider his argument and also ask what Anselm's work can tell us about the Medieval Christian conception of the Divine. 

December 5, Tues (7:30 pm): Jesus' Jewish Roots. Jesus and his original followers were Jews, but because the first Christians quickly went into schism with their former co-religionists, Jesus' Jewish roots have often been obscured. We will look at the historical Jesus and the earliest Christian groups within the context of Second Temple Judaism and contemporary Jewish religion and sects.

December 12, Tues (7:30 pm): The Diverse Expressions of Islam. Islam is not monolithic, but includes a wide diversity of ideas and traditions that have evolved in the fourteen centuries since the death of the prophet Muhammad. Guest lecturer Shaheen Bagha will present a brief introduction and historical overview of these rich and diverse traditions. 

December 19, Tues (7:30 pm): Yahweh and the Canaanite Pantheon. Before the God of Israel was understood to be the sole omnipotent God of the universe, Yahweh (or "Jehovah") was worshiped as part of a pantheon of gods that included Ba'al, El, and Asherah. Guest lecturer Leandro Palacios will present an introduction to ancient Canaanite mythology and its relationship to Israelite religion of the first temple period.