Defining the Humanities: Medieval Christianity

[MUSIC] As meaning making animals we’re
going about making meanings and thinking about meanings all the time, in our personal lives, in our political
lives, in our, in our job contexts. I don’t think anybody can function in the
world without some understanding about how meanings are made. [MUSIC] I’m thinking very specifically about a,
a, a Christian world view that I see as emerging around
the end of the 12th century. That there’s a world view which becomes
increasingly and widely shared by not just people in monasteries or, or in
cathedrals, but among the laity as well. This is a, a world view which is shared. And it’s a Christian world view that has a
cosmology, that has symbols, that has, is, has, is populated with various figures,
La Trinitarian apex and God, the father, and, and
Jesus, or Christ and Mary. and, and the, saints in heaven, and people come to see themselves
as inhabiting that structure. So when I think about medieval
Christianity, what I’m trying to do is to tease out the systems in place
within that cosmic structure. One of the things that I’m exploring
is the idea that marriage becomes a metaphor for social order, it, around the beginning of the 13th century,
late 12th and early 13th century. When we go through periods like we
are now, in which people’s ideas about something like marriage
are changing quite radically and quite rapidly, people are confused
about it, and they don’t, they, and they cling to an idea that somehow this
is, this is an institution that is sacred, and must always have been this way,
has always been this way. But it’s not, so, you know, that,
the marriage through much of the first half of the Middle Ages
was a transaction between families. And didn’t have anything to do
with the consent of the children. They would be married off and okay,
off you go and [LAUGH] you’re going to be married, and it didn’t have
anything to do with the church. There’s a lot of social utility
in not questioning it, but there’s also social
utility in questioning it. So, we, we have to have a balance
between those two things. Between the ability to historicize,
to put in context, to question, say this isn’t working anymore,
we have to change it. And the, the,
the processes of tradition and of, of, of, of commitment that,
that we make that keep these things going. [MUSIC] Medievalists are very
interdisciplinary anyway. So art, and literature, and
other things, the things that I study as an undergraduate and
again in graduate school. But the, the philosophy piece of it,
when I first started teaching, my first job was actually as a lecturer
in the philosophy department here, teaching medieval philosophy. And, one of the things that was
very interesting to me was to try to think about the ways in which
a philosopher would approach the material, rather than a historian
would approach the material. And one of the things that I did that
was really helpful to me was that it, it helped me to see the way the people I
was looking back at in the Middle Ages thought about it, because they were
thinking about the problems and issues much more as philosophers might than they
were as an histor, as an historian might. So this enabled me to get more
into their mindset because one of the things that happens that, historians
tend to concentrate on the conclusions of the arguments and
trace the history of the conclusions. But it’s the arguments that
were often more significant and more important in the context. How people were, were, were arguing
rather than what they actually concluded. [MUSIC] All of the text material that’s primary to
me is, is, is produced in the Middle Ages. So a, a project or a process would be figuring out
which texts I want to look at. Why you want to look at them. Then, if it’s a text that’s in manuscript,
I may have to transcribe it, figure out what it says, translate it
from the Latin, really make sense of it, try to fit in into a larger text,
context of other texts. So if I’m dealing with
a philosophical text, there are varieties of sense making there,
just trying to figure out the vocabulary, what the argument is, what the moves are. Who the other people are that the person
I’m, I’m reading is responding to. If I’m dealing with a narrative text, then the structures of those texts are
very different from a philosophical text. So, vignettes, pieces of narrative, the,
the narrative voice in the text, how, how, the, the,
the writer is using symbols in the text. How the various symbolic representations
of the text are interacting with each other in the text. The goosebump moments for me are when
I’ve been puzzling about something and thinking about something, and then I find a text that confirms
everything that I’ve been thinking about. [MUSIC] Being able to find ways to,
to dig back into now very distant past or into a culture’s contexts
that are very different from our own through linguistic or
textual analysis and cultural analysis. Those are things that I think
are just valuable to us in terms of understanding ourselves as meaning,
making beings, as, as, as human beings. [MUSIC]


  1. Does anyone know anything about Buddhist influence on Medieval Christianity? There seems to be quite a lot of it in Christian iconography. But how? How far west did Buddhism spread, and where did it come into contact with large groups of Christians?

  2. The phenomenon which the speaker is referring on 5:10 is known as Conformation bias

    Due to which one finds the text and material which he/she thinks about and give them more importance rather than being truly radical.

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