Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

17th Century Dissociation of Human Knowledge and Belief

ENGL 016.309
MW 3-4:30

Who is God? How can we acquire an intellectual understanding of the Divine? Can man uncover the Divine presence in nature? And what is the path that leads man to God? During the first half of the seventeenth century, these questions were at the center of a theological and philosophical dispute in England and in the rest of Europe, which greatly influenced contemporary literary production. In this seminar, it will be our objective to trace the development in contemporary philosophical and theological disputes (Copernicus, Galilei, Kepler, Bacon, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin et al.), while endeavoring to understand how specific poets and thinkers of the time (John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Sir Thomas Browne, Milton, et al.) responded to those questions. While Reformers traced a clear distinction between the human and the Divine, proto-scientists endeavored in their “disenchantment of the world,” a substantial work of cultural reformation aimed to undermine occult conceptions of existence, and to enhance the importance of experimental observation. The occult “myths” created by human fancy were to be substituted by facts, while sacraments (physical manifestations of the metaphysical) became mere “figures of speech.” Our readings will thus lead us to a close understanding of the philosophical distinction of human and divine, and to acquire a comprehension of the Protestant conceptions of belief, knowledge and contemplation of God.