Research programme

Dante and Late Medieval Florence: Theology in Poetry, Practice and Society

This project explores the multiple experiences of theology in Florence in the period 1280-1300, when Dante engaged in theological study, and examines the ways in which Dante's Commedia responds to those experiences.  The project therefore casts light on the ways in which medieval theology was mediated and experienced within a specific historical and geographical context, paying close attention to its varieties and their effects upon different publics; in doing so, it will re-evaluate a key dimension of a fundamental work of world literature, a work which is increasingly recognised not only as being central within the European literary tradition, but also as a distinctive and unique theological voice in its own right.

The project has four strands:

1. Theological learning in Dante and Dante's Florence This strand examines the sites of theological learning in Florence, asking what an educated layman like Dante might have learned at the Scuole of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella in the 1280s and 1290s, and the forms that learning might have taken. The models of theological practice will be considered in relation to the Commedia's own presentation of theological ideas. The strand will reshape established debates on Dante's perceived theological allegiances by examining the ways those currents of theology appeared and interacted in the local context of Florence, and how the poetic narrative of the Commedia draws on these models.

Prof. Simon Gilson and one post-doctoral researcher, based in Warwick, will develop this strand. 

2. Religious culture and the mediation of theological ideas in Dante and Dante's Florence This strand of the project examines the ways in which theological ideas were mediated in late-medieval Florence beyond the learned context - in popular culture, liturgical practice, preaching, and visual art. By foregrounding the forms taken by "doctrinal" ideas and theological debates, this strand of the project analyses the ways in which Dante's poetry draws on and recasts these forms of theological expression. Source materials to be examined include liturgical sources, visual imagery, and semons and preaching guides.

Dr Matthew Treherne and one post-doctoral researcher, based in Leeds, will work on this strand.

3. Dante and the theological poetics of the social encounter

This strand of the project will examine the theologians who appear as characters in the Commedia, in order to consider the models that existed for mediating the theologian as a historical figure. By casting light on the notion of the person of the theologian in late-medieval Italy, and the nature of his authority, this strand explores the model of theological discourse presented in the Commedia, as a personal, social interaction with individually named and characterized theological authorities.

Dr Matthew Treherne and one doctoral researcher will work on this strand.

4. Dante, theology and socio-political thought This strand of the project will examine the close interaction between Dante's religious thought and his social and political ideas. It will take as its starting point the presence of biblical allusions and references in works by Dante on political themes, and will consider the ways in which Dante's contemporaries in Florence drew on religious thought to analyse contemporary political and social affairs. In particular, this strand of the project will consider the ways in which the prophetic mode informed and helped shape political discourse, connecting the social context of its audience with broader questions of theological significance.

Dr Claire Honess and one doctoral researcher will work on this strand.

This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).