Theology in the History of the University, with Tomoko Masuzawa

Event Date: 

Monday, November 13, 2023 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Event Location: 

  • HSSB 4041

Event Price: 


In this seminar, Tomoko Masuzawa hopes to share a synoptic view of her current book project, tentatively entitled Queen in the Attic: Theology in the History of the University, of which the recently published article, “Theology, the Fairy Queen” (Modern Intellectual History, 19:4, Dec 2022) is a condensed version of Part I. Masuzawa argues that the commonly alleged status of theology in the medieval universities as the “queen of the sciences” was more a wishful thinking (on the part of theologians, of course) than a reality during the 12th through 14th centuries, when the Latin Church itself was far more vested in the study of law than in theology. In fact, in these earliest centuries of the university’s existence, theology faculty was absent in all but three universities. The overweening dominance of theology over the university curriculum, on the other hand, was very much an early-modern reality, against which the 19th-century critics of the university fought and strove to reform. This 19th-century perspective on the pre-reform university has kept our own views of the history of the university in grip. The “modernist” or “reformist” perspective has prevented us from recognizing the import of an obvious fact that the medieval university arose in the Latin West as a new institution to accommodate new, largely foreign and foreign-mediated knowledge flooding in from the Greco-Arabic cultural spheres.

Tomoko Masuzawa is Professor Emerita of History and of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. Born and educated in Tokyo, she holds an MA (Yale) and a PhD (UC Santa Barbara) in Religious Studies. She is a scholar of European intellectual history, with a special interest in modern discourses on religion and the history of human sciences. She previously taught in the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her publications include In Search of Dreamtime: The Quest for the Origin of Religion (1993), The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (2005), “The Bible as Literature?—Note on a Litigious Ferment of the Concept” (2013), “Striating Difference: From ‘Ceremonies and Customs’ to World Religions” (2014), and “Theology, the Fairy Queen” (2022). She has held a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship as well as a membership at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ). She lives in New York City.

The event is co-sponsored with the Department of Religious Studies.