Europe and the Americas: Human and Natural Worlds in the Eyes of Sixteenth-Century Observers (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2006 faculty weekend seminar led by Sabine MacCormack.

In the fourth century CE, Jerome observed to a friend that Jerusalem was no closer to heaven than the distant and alien lands of Britain. Some twelve centuries later, the Jesuit José de Acosta (c. 1540–1600) refurbished this thought and applied it to the distance between the Americas and Europe. Notwithstanding the long ocean voyage, and despite the epistemological and cultural distances and disjunctures that separated the two continents, the world was still one. Acosta’s own life is an example and metaphor of this observation. Trained as a Jesuit in Spain, he lived creative and productive years in Peru and saw Mexico before returning to Europe where his diplomatic skills were in high demand. While in Peru, Acosta immersed himself in the culture, history and language of Andean people and wrote two influential books about the Americas: Natural and Moral History of the Indies and a missionary manual titled How to Care for the Well Being of the Indians. In his later years, he addressed the religious needs of Spaniards in a long cycle of sermons about the Christian liturgical year and also wrote two treatises about the meaning and end of history. Acosta’s ability to move between the European and American cultural universes was the leitmotiv for this seminar. Incorporating additional cases from the research and teaching of its faculty participants, the seminar engaged in two days of discussion about the principles of unity and diversity of the human and natural world as perceived by sixteenth-century observers. Cosmology, religion, and language, along with statecraft, history, and economics provided the framework for discussion and new research trajectories.

Director: Sabine MacCormack is the Theodore Hesburgh C.S.C. Professor of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Early Colonial Peru (1991), The Shadows of Poetry: Vergil in the Mind of Augustine (1998), and of the forthcoming On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru.