Man, nature and the supernatural, c.1000-c.1600

Course Material 2022/23

‘Man, Nature and the Supernatural’ is a specified subject that traces how men and women made sense of the visible and invisible world from c.1000 to c.1600. Taking account of both ‘learned’ and ‘unlearned’ perspectives, the paper responds to recent research that has been concerned with ideas of the natural and supernatural, relationships between material and immaterial worlds, and the means by which medieval men and women acquired and organized knowledge about these things. A range of themes, each of which has generated substantial historiographies, provides a scaffold for the paper. Thus the paper will examine the chain of being and how human beings fitted into a cosmos populated also by animals, angels, demons and ambiguous beings. It will be concerned with the boundaries of ‘the human’ and what might constitute ‘ordinary’ experience, and how these were conceptualized and negotiated by medieval writers and artists. It will also consider how time was understood, in terms of time stretching in linear fashion from the creation of the world to its end, and in terms of the rhythms of ordinary life, liturgical and calendrical time and ‘agricultural’ time, marked by the seasons and the labours of the months. It will be concerned too with both the geography and topography of this world and that of the next–heaven, hell and purgatory –and discourses about ‘parallel’ worlds such as the fairy realm, as portrayed in chronicles and romance literature. The paper will concentrate on the British Isles, but there will be comparative reflections too,reaching out beyond Britain,and engagement with religious and intellectual dynamics of significance throughout the Christian West.

For further information, and a reading list, use the following link.

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Image: An illustration from Topographia Hiberniae depicting the story of a traveling priest who meets and communes a pair of good werewolves from the kingdom of Ossory.