Lindsay Starkey

  • Fellowship year:2011-2012
  • University: University of Wisconsin - Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Religion
  • Dissertation Title: John Calvin and Natural Philosophy
  • This dissertation explores the resonances between John Calvin’s works and sixteenth-century natural philosophical texts. Both popular and scholarly works on Calvin tend to portray him more narrowly as a theologian. However, Calvin had a wide variety of education experiences, and he also referenced and cited a wide range of authors in his works. Building on this insight, I read Calvin’s Institutes, his Pauline commentaries, his sermons and commentaries on Genesis, Job, Jeremiah, and Pslams, and various polemical treatises alongside natural philosophical texts that were likely part of his education and reading as well as those that circulated widely in the period. I focus on those places in Calvin’s works where he appropriated natural philosophical teachings directly or used vocabulary that also appeared in contemporary natural philosophical texts.
    My dissertation examines these intersections to bring together aspects of sixteenth-century education and thought that scholars typically treat as separate. Though most sixteenth-century theologians including Calvin likely received some training in natural philosophy, scholars in the nineteenth-century began to write about religion and science as two separate, perhaps even warring, entities. More recent scholars have discussed religion and science as often complementary areas of study, but they typically assume that we can discuss the separate existence of science and religion during many different historical periods. My research reveals that this separation keeps us from addressing the changing relationship between the study of nature and the study of God that I argue is crucial to our understanding of Calvin’s works. My dissertation will show that we cannot separate the natural philosophical aspects from the theological in Calvin’s writings if we hope to understand his discussions of God’s relationship to people and to Creation fully. Bringing natural philosophical treatises and Calvin’s works into the same study allows me to offer a different interpretation of his notion of God’s revelation in the world and the relationship between people and God. It also challenges the boundaries that we continue to draw between science and religion, encouraging us to rethink both their historical and contemporary relationship.