Genealogies of Modernity

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 July 3rd-July 7th
at University of Pennsylvania
 Registration Now Closed

Sign-up for our Newsletter or check our website soon for our Summer 2018 Graduate Seminar offerings.

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When and how did we become modern?  Many twentieth- and twenty-first century thinkers have identified and “age of reform,” roughly 1350-1600, as the birthplace of modernity.  Many of these accounts are declension narratives that locate the origins of modernity’s ills in late-medieval and Reformation-era intellectual developments. This seminar will re-examine several influential declension narratives and explore alternative possibilities from within the relevant disciplines: philosophy, theology, art history, and the intersection of biblical and literary studies—with intellectual, social, and religious history as continual interlocutors.
Participants will prepare for the seminar by reading selections from several genealogies of modernity, e.g., Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Louis Dupré’s Passage to Modernity, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Alexander Nagel’s and Christopher Wood’s Anachronic Renaissance, Henri de Lubac’s Medieval Exegesis, and James Simpson’s Oxford Literary History, Reform and Cultural Revolution
Each of four days of the five-day seminar will focus on a specific genealogy in one discipline: philosophy and the rise of univocal metaphysics, as well as covenantal voluntarism (Thomas Ward, Loyola Marymount University); theology and the rationality of tradition (Chris Hackett, Australian Catholic University); art history and the “age of the world-picture” (Christopher Nygren, University of Pennsylvania); biblical studies / literary history and the ascendancy of literal-critical exegesis (Ryan McDermott, University of Pennsylvania). In morning sessions we will seek to understand the dominant declension narrative in question—its motivations, affordances, and limitations—with reference to key primary texts. In afternoon sessions, we will consider alternative passages to modernity in the given field. Each day will be led by a specialist in the field. 
Ideally, participants will learn to distinguish and potentially emulate several modes of understanding the past in order to (a) revise prevailing accounts of cultural change, particularly the dynamics of secularization; (b) critique movements in the academy, church, and culture; (c) develop resources for human flourishing in pluralistic societies.
The seminar’s disciplinary foci are history, philosophy, theology, literary studies, and art history, but graduate students across the humanities are welcome to apply



Professor Carlos Eire

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Dr. Carlos Eire is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.  His research and teaching converge upon the social, intellectual, religious, and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Europe, with a strong focus on both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations; the history of popular piety; and the history of death.  He is the past president of the Society for Reformation Research and the author of War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship From Erasmus to Calvin (1986);  From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth Century Spain (1995);  A Very Brief History of Eternity (2010);  and co-author of Jews, Christians, Muslims: An Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (1997).  He has also ventured into the twentieth century and the Cuban Revolution in the memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003) which won the National Book Award in Nonfiction (2003) and was translated into more than a dozen languages.

Professor Ryan McDermott

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Dr. Ryan McDermott is Associate Professor of Medieval Literature and Culture in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh.  He received his Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Virginia in 2010. He received his M.T.S. from Duke University Divinity School in 2005 and holds a B.A. in English from Westmont College. In his research and teaching, Ryan McDermott tries to bridge the divide between medieval and modern worlds. His first book, Tropologies: Ethics and Invention in England, c. 1350-1600 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2016), tracks changes and continuities in vernacular religious literature across the intellectual and cultural watershed of the English Reformation. A long-term book project, Genealogies of Modernity: The Bible, Literature, and Vernacular Theology, challenges influential narratives that locate the origins of modernity in late-medieval and Reformation-era intellectual developments. He is currently writing a theology of incorruptibility.

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Dr. Tom Ward (Ph.D, UCLA; M.Phil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of Philosophy, and Director of Graduate Studies, at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles. His research focuses on medieval scholasticism. He is the author of John Duns Scotus on Parts, Wholes, and Hylomorphism (Brill, 2014), along with articles and book chapters on a variety of medieval topics, including voluntarism, embryology, chemistry, logic, beatific vision, and the existence of God.



Dr. Christopher Nygren is assistant professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh.  He earned a B.A. with honors from the University of Notre Dame and completed his M.A. and Ph.D. (with distinction) at Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, philosophy, and art in the Italian Renaissance. His first book manuscript, Titian’s Icons: Painting at the Limits of Art and Theology in 16th-Century Italy, examines how the heritage of Christian image-making was reconfigured in the early modern period. His research has been funded by the Kress Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. His articles have been featured in The Art Bulletin, Renaissance Quarterly, Word & Image, and Modern Language Notes. His teaching encompasses a wide array of themes, periods and geographies including Italian art from 1200-1700, the pre-modern Mediterranean, and art in early modern Iberia. His interest in the materiality of art and religious practice have given rise to his second book-length project, which will be a study of Renaissance paintings on stone.  



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Dr. William C. “Chris” Hackett is a philosophical theologian, translator and writer.  After studying with several major figures in Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies at various institutions in Europe and the U. S., Hackett was appointed, in 2012, as Research Fellow/Lecturer in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at Australian Catholic University.  For the calendar year 2016 Hackett was concurrently Visiting Scholar at two institutions: Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions and Boston College’s Philosophy Department.  He is also an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Belmont University in Nashville.  In his work as a translator, his most recent publication is Jean Wahl’s, Human Existence and Transcendence (2016, University of Notre Dame Press).  Hackett is a scholar of contemporary French thought with an acute interest in the “philosophy of the Church Fathers,” where the constructive interplay of orthodoxy and orthé chresis—“right belief” and “right use”—becomes a blueprint for present day constructive theological thinking. 



Application Materials

  • A completed online Application Form.
  • An updated CV
  • A statement of research interest no longer than 750 words, which includes an explanation of how this seminar might bear on the your current or future research plans.


Deadline for submission is March 31st.

All documents should be submitted after the online application form.  Please e-mail documents to  Each document should be titled with the student’s last name and first initial.

*Acceptance to this seminar includes coverage of all expenses for the duration of the workshop.  This includes room, board, and texts.  Participants are responsible for their travel to and from the workshop.*


Please direct any questions or comments to