CIV 203 tackles important questions regarding the human condition within the specific historical, cultural and religious context of the Middle Ages (“Medioevo”, in the Italian and Latin tradition). In this edition of the course we will study a seminal literary work called “The Divine Comedy” (original title: “La Divina Commedia”), written between 1302 and 1320 by a medieval Italian poet, politician, writer, philosopher and fierce social critic: Dante Alighieri. Given the comparative nature of CIV courses and their focus on civilizational development, we will also look at how the work of Dante was influenced by several authors, matching his work with passages from classical philosophy, ancient mythology, poems, scriptures from Christianity (in various denominations and historical periods), Islam, and other religions of the Middle East. We will draw comparisons between the values or topics (or messages/themes/imagery) elaborated in the Divine Comedy, and the way the same values are expressed in other cultures, worldviews and religions which were predominant at the time of Dante. Moreover, we will incorporate critical understandings of how the values expressed in the Divine Comedy and in texts from the Muslim world reflect the political, religious, and philosophical competition that - at the time of Dante - swept Europe: Christianity (with its internal conflicts between papacy and empires, the corruption of the church, the political and military fragmentation of Europe) and the Middle East (with the Islamic conquest across European lands, its scientific development and its cultural influence stretching all the way to the end of the Mediterranean.

This is a course about the human condition, analyzed against the background of medieval politics, philosophy, religion, and culture. It is a course about the development of what Dante Alighieri saw as guiding values for individuals, for a stable and prosperous polity, for the State and for the Church as separate seats of authority, and as opposed to what those values may have been within non-Christian traditions and in the Muslim world. Why? because Europe and the Middle East were in direct competition for cultural, military and religious hegemony during this historical period.

In this course students will gain knowledge of relevant theories, concepts and debates about the relationship between medieval thought, religious values, philosophy, morals, and understanding of the world as a precursor to modern civilization. Concepts represent an abstraction that usually help us formulate theories (i.e.: hypotheses that serves as a guideline). If concepts are not coupled with questions, however, they remain fruitless. We need strong questions (and a vigorous, open debate around them) to formulate and validate theories. By examining theories we explore the ways in which knowledge is constructed. What assumptions do we make? What concepts do we employ? What explanations do we propose? What sort of judgments do we make?

Skill Level: Beginner