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Magic, Science and Religion in the Renaissance


Module description

This module investigates the relations between some of the major intellectual currents in Early Modern Europe, the complex interplay between its various kinds of magic, science and religion. The course calls into question conventional forms of historiography that contrast a benighted illicit magic to either a pious religiosity or enlightened science and helps you develop a familiarity with the theories and practices of those engaged in what has been called 'the Other Side of the Scientific Revolution'. The course considers the boundaries of acceptable knowledge and the particular communicability of its forms in Renaissance and Reformation Europe. Discussing the works of significant early modern thinkers (including Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, Nicolaus Copernicus, John Dee, Giovanni Battista Della Porta, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Theophrastus Paracelsus, and Johann Reuchlin), it will look at the interaction between magical, religious and humanist discourse, the relations between 'occult' and 'scientific' forms of knowledge, and natural and supernatural forms of experience and agency.

By the end of the course you will have considered 'occult' subjects as astrology, alchemy, cabala, natural and ceremonial magic, as well as works traditionally associated with the Scientific Revolution (such as Copernicus's De revolutionibus and Kepler's De Harmonia Mundi) in the context of contemporary religious belief.