Concordia discors

“Unity”, “variety”, and the search for middle ground in intellectual and lay cultures of the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era

The evolution of philosophical and religious thinking, and political ideas during the Renaissance matches the manifold political developments of that era (c. 1300-c. 1600) without being either a mere result or a cause of the latter. Values as “unanimity”, “unity”, “concord”, “agreement” were increasingly appreciated, whereas “variety”, “discord”, and the likes, were considered as a decline, as evidenced by the source documents.

This viewpoint was in a sublime way expressed at the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517), where one of the central statements touches upon the “unity of truth”. The philosophical notion of (unity of) truth became crucial not only in intellectual philosophy and theology but also in the emerging general public debate. The controversies between Luther and Catholic theologians found increasingly resonance in more popular pamphlets and debates. Next to polarization, middle grounds were forged where intellectuals and lay people exchanged ideas and knowledge; these “aggregation points” of the public debate could be textual, but also localized in physical places, such as the town square, the school, or even the tavern.

At the same time, concepts such as “urban peace” were also often headed under the need for societal and religious “concord” in order to reach prosperity, while they mobilized significant numbers of lay people. Accordingly, the fragmentation into different and often conflicting networks, either religious, intellectual, or political, coexisted with a call for the unity of truth and its universal communication.

The principle of “discordant concord” (concordia discors), or unity through variety, was a sophisticated tool elaborated to navigate through the complexities towards finding middle grounds. Such principle had been used to bridge confessional and political divides, but also to elaborate a more inclusive hermeneutics of the authoritative religious and philosophical texts.

The political, philosophical, and theological debates in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries constitute the premises of the emerging of the Modern Project.

The papers to be presented within Working Group 3 will deal with the tension between “unity” and “variety”, as well as with the search for middle grounds, in the intellectual and lay cultures of medieval and early modern Europe. Contributors may specifically think of the following themes: 

1) The so-called “double-truth” standard and the question of “initiation” and pedagogy in the Renaissance teaching of philosophy;

2) Instances of failed assimilation, the problem of heresy and error, and the strategies for maintaining intellectual control; diverging interpretation between lay and religious communities;

3) The ideal of one trustful ‘unity’ text of the Bible versus a variety of literary versions, and how this found reflection in lay reading practices;

4) The ideal of ‘one truth’ challenged by religious dissenters, and how this found reflection in more popular pamphlets and debates;

5) Outsiders: the role of marginal networks, secret societies, academies, and “free thinkers”;

6) The ideal of one faith and one reign, threatened by religious dissidence and political discord; the ideal of urban peace and concord, threatened by religious division;

7) The transfer of religious knowledge from religious institutions (universities, monasteries, cathedrals, chapters) to lay networks and lay communities;

8) Shared encyclopedia and common references, language shifts and the migration of ideas between religious communities (Reformed, Catholic, Non-Christian);

9) Aggregation points and middle grounds where different groups discussed, exchanged ideas, and connected.

The deadline for submitting paper proposals is 15 January 2017. Please send an email with a short abstract (max. 300 words) and a very short bio to: Margriet Hoogvliet (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.);
Paweł Kras (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.); Andrea A. Robiglio (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

(The meeting in Louvain, on 6th-8th of April 2017, is organized by Andrea Robiglio, in collaboration with Wim François and Violet Soen.

Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )