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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Order, the Universe and Everything: The World of Robert Grosseteste

27th November 2015, 17:30, Ken Wade Theatre, Calman Learning Centre

This is a public lecture, within the Ordered Universe Research Project (2015-2019). For more information on the project see

The event is free and open to all, to book your place please click here

'Order, the Universe and Everything' introduces the world of the late twelfth- and thirteenth-century polymath Robert Grosseteste. Bishop of Lincoln, 1235-1253, Grosseteste was also lector to the Oxford Franciscans, ‘Chancellor’ of the nascent University of Oxford, reformer, politician and scholar. This lecture will trace themes across Grosseteste’s earliest writings, those on the mathematical arts, to his magisterial commentary on the six days of Creation, The Hexaemeron. The work of Creation inspires Grosseteste to some of his most inventive and dazzling intellectual achievements, expressed in language both poetic and precise, alongside a subtle and brilliant exposition of a universe grounded in geometrical mathematical harmony. Colour, light, and sounds were areas of particular interest to Grosseteste and form the major elements of the lecture, as well as consideration of the purposes for which learning was acquired, according to Grosseteste. The moral status of the scholar, the inculcation of a sense of wonderment and awe at a Creation revealed and understood rationally, if only partially, and of a vision which encompasses the limits of the universe to the smallest human perception, are underlying Grossetestian concerns that will be examined. Drawing on the work of the Ordered Universe Research Project, the lecture will reflect on the deeper cultural narratives for scientific understandings of the world and the historical contexts by which they are framed and to the framing of which they contribute. The necessity of a modern interdisciplinary approach to Grosseteste and his world and the fruitfulness of collaboration between sciences and humanities lie at the heart of the Ordered Universe Project. Grosseteste lived in a period in which new ideas about nature, humanity and the ordering of life were cascading into the West from the ancient world and earlier medieval Jewish and Islamic traditions of thought. How he, and his contemporaries, made sense of this new knowledge, reconciled it to their own traditions and looked at the world around them are questions as important now as they were in the thirteenth century. 

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