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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2005

E 392M • Atheism, Heresy, and Representation in Early Modern Europe

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
32670 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
CAL 323
Mallin and Chapelle Wojciehowski

Course Description

There has been a recent turn, or return, to the study of religious practice and belief in the Renaissance. Partly a reaction to new historicism’s secular focus on the court and configurations of material power, partly a reflection of a political and ethical conservatism, this new assertion of the “dominant religious culture” offers salutary reminders of the heft of belief and the ubiquity of formal orthodoxy in early modern society. However, although often richly theorized, such new religious studies do not always acknowledge that “orthodoxy” and “belief” were spiritual fictions, shot through with contradictions and antinomian practices even in the most devout enclaves. Particularly after the Reformation, piety was a construction. It rarely arose in organic consensus, even less often as a result of revelation. Traditional attention to the subtle variations between sects of Protestantism, and to the more vigorous rifts between Catholic and reform churches, has helped obscure the often unspoken problem in the early modern period: “the problem of unbelief,” as Lucien Febvre has called it. In this course we will focus on this problem, particularly as it finds its way into literary and philosophical representations. We will consider Rabelais, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Marlowe (of course) and Milton as writers whose work is susceptible of atheist or at the least heretical readings. But we will also be concerned with discourse on the borders of the imaginary and the "real": we shall consider witchcraft trials and tracts as indices of heterodox possibility; we’ll examine the legal and ecumenical troubles of Giordano Bruno and Galileo so as to witness heresy in conflict with power; we will undertake the travel narratives of Walter Ralegh, Jan van Linschoten, and especially F. Mendez-Pinto (whom Congreve later called "a liar of the first magnitude") to understand European fantasies of liberation from religious authority and the demonization of religious alterity; and we will touch on contemporary deconstructive and feminist theology to help illuminate the ways in which Thinking Otherwise might have penetrated the recesses of the dominant and occasionally—surprisingly—estranged it from itself.


Selected secondary readings will be drawn from Lucien Febvre, John.Bossy, Eamon Duffy, Julia Kristeva, Katherine J. Dell, Jacques Derrida, Jerry Brotton, Claude Rawson, Slavoj Zizek, Luce Irigaray, and essay collections on European heresy, persecution, and toleration


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