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Of Stone and Straw: The Making of Scholasticism in Medieval Paris

Martin Schwarz

Confronting our dematerialized, rarified notion of medieval philosophy, my research situates Scholasticism in relation to the arts, architecture, and urban development of France's capital between c. 1150–c. 1350. The seat of Christendom's greatest university, hailed by contemporaries as a New Athens (and a New Babylon by its critics), medieval Paris was the birthplace and epicenter of the Scholastic enterprise. From Abelard to Aquinas and Ockham, virtually the entire cast of Scholastic philosophy once roamed the city, transforming its streets and squares, public schools, colleges, and convents into a grand stage and intellectual arena for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The dissertation proposes that the Scholastic revolution, which dismantled centuries-old traditions of Christian learning, cannot be reasonably understood in isolation from the urban world and culture in which it thrived. Indeed, in its concrete material, built, and spatial forms Paris figured centrally in the methodological and ideological discourses that defined the period. Highly self-aware of this fact, various scholastic factions mobilized Paris' extraordinary artistic resources to fashion and promote their own scientific ideals and intellectual values while critiquing and contesting those of its rivals. In essence, it was in and through the city and its material-artistic culture that the project of Scholasticism took on a phenomenal and tangible presence that shaped the practice, reception, and imaginary of an entire era in the history of philosophy. From a methodological standpoint, what is at stake in the project are new ways and means of overcoming the artificial disciplinary divide between history of thought and material culture, and the prospect of giving Scholasticism its art historical due.

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