Scholars Award: Charlemagne and the Christian Revivial of Science

  • Eastwood, Bruce (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Obiectives. What religious goals did Charlemagne (ruled 768-814) hope to achieve by supporting a revival of scientific knowledge at the beginning of the ninth century? How were royal political legitimacy and science related in Charlemagne's striving for greater order in his kingdom and empire? In what ways did royal court culture and the education of clerics intersect and promote the sciences? In answering these questions the project will present Charlemagne's case for ordering a reform of Christian knowledge as part of a broad renewal of the religious culture in his realm. This religious renewal included the vision of Charlemagne and his dynasty as divinely chosen to direct the ordering of Christian Europe and improve Christian education within it. The king assembled from Italy, England, Ireland, and elsewhere scholars with extensive knowledge to his court. The court itself emerged as a source and a point of dissemination for revived or rediscovered Iiterary texts and scientific knowledge along with fuller exploration of writings by the church Fathers and more recent Christian authors. Using the advice of various scholars, both secular and clerical, the king oversaw doctrinal reform, ordered attention to specific areas of study in the education of clerics, and stimulated the interest of ecclesiastical leaders in a renewal and expansion of the liberal arts as an essential foundation for biblical and doctrinal understanding. The project will show how certain of these leaders pursued a distinctive interpretation of Saint Augustine's view of secular scientific knowledge in order to justify an extensive revival and teaching of classical Roman texts (and some translated Greek texts) on astronomy, cosmology, medicine, agriculture, mathematics, and military science among others. The nature of these texts, illustrations from their pages, the ways they were studied in the Carolingian renaissance of the ninth century - all these will be exposed. The search for and discovery of order in the heavens, the weather, human physiology, the structure of the cosmos, and the behaviors of animals contributed to a greater sense of confidence in the direction and order of the church and kingdom. At the same time, such confidence always required renewal through analyses of new phenomena and newly revealed knowledge. The project will show how a succession of clerics from Charlemagne forward interacted with the royal court and royal patronage to support increasingly more sophisticated scientific study and the teaching of natural science. These were seen to strengthen the church and Christian culture and thereby to benefit the king, acting in accord with the will of God. Methods. Historical methods, reading and translating medieval Latin manuscripts, engaging and applying current scholarship on the era of Charlemagne, will allow the PI to offer new understandings of the place of science in the vastly different world of ninth-century northern Europe. Description and analysis of the political and religious situations will use official documents, letter collections, religious treatises, and scientific texts to expose the particulars of scientific revival. These sources also reveal goals and strategies of ecclesiastical advisors and power figures, interacting with the royal court and with each other in regard to the sciences. lnte llectual merit. The history of scientific knowledge in ninth-century Europe has moved from the study of computus (calendar-making and computation) to astronomy and to medicine and beyond. The present project will for the first time bring together a broad range of sciences and explore more deeply the religious background behind the Carolingian profusion of scientific studies, including the sense of connection between good kingship and the refonl1 of religious and secular studies in schools. This picture of a Christian revival of science will show the reasons specific to ninth-century politics and religion for such a renewal and advancement. Broader impacts. The project will show the importance of historical conditions for different relationships among science, religion, and politics. The publication of an accessible historical narrative in book form will engage public interest. Both the limits and opportunities, historically conditioned, of political and religious involvement in science will be set out and discussed.
Effective start/end date8/15/067/31/08


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