OxNet & Ordered Universe: Seminars and Easter School in the North-East Hub

One of the wider activities with which the Ordered Universe is engaged is the OxNet access initiative, which seeks to place university learning directly into schools. In the case of the collaboration with Ordered Universe this involves team members bringing the world of medieval science and of the array of disciplines that make up the project to Continue reading

Back To (Easter) School

For the 2017–18 academic year, the Ordered Universe Project has continued its partnership with OxNet, an outreach scheme superintended by Pembroke College, Oxford. So far this year, students from local schools have attended evening seminars taught by leading academics from Durham and Sunderland Universities, and now those students have been invited to spend two days at Durham University to get a taste of university life while continuing to explore some of the topics that are closest to the hearts and minds of the members of the Ordered Universe Project.

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Grosseteste on Space and Place


The latest in the series of Ordered Universe symposia took place last week, between 1st and 3rd September. We gathered in Durham once more, in the hospitable surroundings of St John’s College, to examine two of Grosseteste’s treatises, and review progress on those now in the publication roster (on which more soon). The meeting was, formally, for the 17th collaborative reading symposium of the project. The experience from those meetings showed in the way that the team were able to move between texts, editions, translations Continue reading

Space and Place: Ordered Universe Symposium

The next Ordered Universe symposium takes place at the beginning of September. From 1-3 various members of the research team will meet at Durham University, at St John’s College, to continue the programme of collaborative reading. The symposium will see the second reading of the treatise De sphera – On the Sphere, the first of the next text in our roster, the De diferentiis localibus – On Local Differences, and revision of earlier work with the treatise De liberalibus artibus – On the Liberal Arts and its Middle English translation. A full programme – complete with a public lecture by Professor Clive Siviour, Department of Engineering and Pembroke College, University of Oxford on his research into High-Speed Photography, and Grossetestes’s treatise De generatione sonorum – On the Generation of Sounds. This takes place in the Cassidy Atrium at St Chad’s College, from 5.30 and is followed by an opportunity to meet the research team, to explore some of the resources of the project, and to participate in some medieval and modern experiments.


Image of walking around the world, from Goussouin de Metz, L’image du monde, with permission from the BN, France, Fr. 1548, used with permission.

Scholarly Perspectives on Faith, Science and Academia

On Wednesday 8 June 2016, Brian Tanner spoke at one of the ‘Faith, Science and Academia’ series of seminars, jointly hosted by Ustinov College and St John’s College, Durham. The objective of the seminars is to ‘explore the intersection of faith, science and academia from the perspective of different scholarly disciplines’.

Following a presentation by Dr Dori Beeler of the Durham University Anthropology Department, entitled ‘Reiki as a Form of Spiritual Practice’, Brian spoke to the title ‘With and Without God: the confluence and divergence of Medieval and Modern Science’. He began by observing that belief underpinned natural philosophy in medieval science. A scholar studied the natural world on the premise that to understand God’s purpose one needed to understand the natural world that He had created. Introducing Robert Grosseteste, Brian used Grosseteste’s writing on the Hexamaeron to illustrate the belief that ultimate wisdom came from Scripture, supported by an understanding of the natural world. A similar view was illustrated from Grosseteste’s younger contemporary, the mostly Paris-based Roger Bacon.

Brian emphasised that the development of science has been a continuous process and that science did not just emerge out of nowhere in the 17th Century. The Scientific Revolution was not a correction of previous erroneous thinking but rather a culmination of continual progress in the observation and study of natural phenomena. Using examples of the experiments of Ptolemy described by Alhazen and Witelo, and the explanation of the burning lens by Bacon, Brian pointed out that medieval scientific observations would be recognised today as scientific activity and described Grosseteste’s contribution to scientific methodology. Specifically Grosseteste:

  • Described the method for developing a universal principle from repeated observations under controlled conditions. (The use of scammony for withdrawal of red bile was cited.)
  • Developed the principle of falsification for testing theories (Brian rather uncharitably used data on clinical trials into the efficacy (or otherwise) of Reiki healing to illustrate the method.)
  • Developed the method of reducing a complex and intractable problem in simpler, tractable components. (Grosseteste explained the rainbow by refraction at a succession of boundaries)
  • Argued that the explanation needing fewer suppositions and premises was the best. (This principle is popularly associated with the later Dominican scholar William of Ockam, and known as Ockham’s Razor)

In particular Grosseteste’s insistence on the unity of explanation of natural phenomena remains a central tenet of scientific enquiry to this day.

Turning to modern science, Brian argued that it was rooted in the same Aristotelean principles of understanding through empirical observation, and that it followed the same methodology expounded by Grosseteste. Modern scientists search for simple explanatory principles which are predictive and testable (no teleology). These should be rooted in a unified conceptual model of the Universe. However, metaphysical questions are not asked and there is no assumption of God’s existence. This change did not take place abruptly and quotations from Newton, Laplace and Dawkins illustrated the continual nature of the move to a scientific enquiry that is no longer subservient to theology.

Brian left the audience to debate whether this change of perspective:

  • affects the way in which science is conducted;
  • has anything to say about faith;
  • impacts on our understanding of the Universe and our place in it.

The discussion was lively and extended.

Ordered Universe Workshops

A record of the main collaborative workshops we have held, from the birth of the project to read scientific works of the High Middle Ages in an interdisciplinary forum, to the most recent focused sessions on the treatise on the rainbow. The process of team-building is a long one, and involves forging bonds of trust, personally and intellectually, between team members, and across disciplines. Each workshop advances the project, sharpens translations and interpretative questions, introduces new issues and new participants. Workshops are democratic and open to all, current and retired staff, post-docs, PhD and MA students and undergraduates. Continue reading