Encountering Others, Understanding Ourselves in Medieval and Early Modern Thought

An interdisciplinary conference in December 16–18, 2019, Helsinki, organised by the CoE in Reason and Religious Recognition and funded by the Academy of Finland and University of Helsinki

Venue: The House of Sciences and Letters (Tieteiden talo), Kirkkokatu 6

The aim of the conference is to examine how medieval and early modern Christian, Jewish and Muslim thinkers (in theology, philosophy, history, and law) accommodate figures of otherness in their work, either as parts of specific theological, philosophical, legal and political arguments or as tangible beings that have to be reckoned with. Theoretical and methodological approaches are welcome, and interdisciplinary perspectives are encouraged.

Main themes include:

  • Toleration and recognition (cultural, ethnic, religious)
  • Identity (formation of the self and the group)
  • Rights, needs and liberties
  • Virtues; common and individual good

These themes call for several questions, such as the identification of the group in terms of who and what are to be recognized, and why; as well as interrogating and interpreting the moral bases of the question of otherness together with rights, responsibilities or virtues. Naturally, this also raises historical investigations of events and institutions in this vein, including crusades, missionary work, slavery, the Inquisition, colonialism, and others.


Frederick Neuhouser

Professor of Philosophy, University of Columbia



Isabelle Mandrella 

Professor of Philosophy, Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Munich



Jukka Korpela 

Professor of History, University of Eastern Finland





9.30  Registration (hall 104)

9.50  Opening words, Virpi Mäkinen (hall 104)

10.00–11.00  KEYNOTE (hall 104):

Isabelle Mandrella                                                                                                    Encountering Others in Medieval Ethics: The Case of Thomas Aquinas

11.00–11.30 COFFEE BREAK (hall 504)

11.30–13.00  SESSION 1 (hall 505)

Ritva Palmén (Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies): Hope, Shame and Self-evaluation in Thomas Aquinas’s Moral Philosophy

Nicolas Faucher (University of Helsinki): Scientia, fidesor opinio? Aquinas on the Epistemic Status of Heretical and Demonic Belief

Juhana Toivanen (University of Jyväskylä/University of Gothenburg): Conditions for a Conceptual Distinction between Common and Individual Good

13.00–14.00   LUNCH BREAK

14.00–15.00   SESSION 2 (hall 505)

Samuel Fernandés (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile): Origen’s Doctrine on the Pre-existence of the Soul: A Speculation about Prehistory or a Biblical Enquiry about Our Present Identity?

Virpi Mäkinen (University of Helsinki): Domingo de Soto on the Duties of Public Power in Relation to the Rights of Foreign Poor

15.00–15.30  COFFEE BREAK (hall 404)

15.30–17.00   SESSION 3 (hall 404)

Reima Välimäki (University of Turku): The Worst of All Heresies: Polemical Responses to Waldensianism ca. 1200–1400

Michael Dunne (University of Maynooth): Conflicts, Controversies and Confrontations: The Irish, the Armenians and the Muslims in the Thought of Richard FitzRalph (1300-1360)

Stefan Schröder (University of Helsinki): “O what a strange unnatural fast, fit only for carnal and beastly men!” The Interrelation between the ‘Other’ and the ‘Self’ in Late Medieval Travel Reports to the Holy Land

18.00–20.00  RECEPTIONFaculty of Theology, Faculty Hall (Vuorikatu 3, 5thfloor)



10.00–11.00  KEYNOTE (hall 104)

Frederick Neuhouser, Rousseau on the Nature and Source of Social Inequality

11.00–11.30 COFFEE BREAK (hall 504)

11.30–13.30  SESSION 4 (hall 505)

Tim Stuart-Buttle(University of York) and Heikki Haara (University of Helsinki): Recognition and the Acknowledgement of Equality: from Hobbes to Smith

Kaisa Iso-Herttua (University of Helsinki): The Conflict between Religious Identity and Political Order – Lockean Solution

Risto Saarinen (University of Helsinki): Farewell to Early Modern Accounts: Recognition in Schleiermacher’s On Religion (1799)

13.30–14.30  LUNCH BREAK

14.30–16.00  SESSION 5 (hall 505)

Emanuele Lacca (University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic): Justice, Dignity and the Care of the Others in Pedro de Ledesma (1544-1616)

Ryan Manley(Texas A&M University): A Friend Within: Montaigne on Friendship and Conscience

Vili Lähteenmäki(University of Helsinki): Anthony Collins on Powers and Selves

16.00–16.30   Coffee break (hall 504)

16.30–18.00   SESSION 6 (hall 505)

Mikko Posti (University of Helsinki): Medieval Christian Encounters with Pagan Views of Divine Causality

Susan Gottlöber (University of Maynooth): How Tolerable is Cusa’s Tolerance? Revisiting Cusa’s Encounter with Islam

Panu-Matti Pöykkö(University of Helsinki): Some Help from Two Medieval Friends: Levinas, Maimonides and Judah Halevi on Idolatry

18.30–23.00   CONFERENCE DINNER (Unioninkatu 33)

Music: Nelli Saarikoski (vocals/piano), Mikko Posti (guitar), Kimmo Vainio (bass)



10.00–11.00   KEYNOTE (hall 104)

Jukka Korpela:  Does the Law Need Reason and Recognition? Cases from Eastern Church and Politics

11.00–11.30 COFFEE BREAK (hall 504)

11.30–13.00  SESSION 7 (hall 505)                                                                                                         

Joanna Comes (University of Porto): Translating Religious Differences: An Impossibility?

Päivi Räisänen-Schröder (University of Helsinki): Encountering Reformation Others in Early Modern German Administration

Joonas Tammela (University of Jyväskylä): The Limits of the “New Israel”? The Collective Lutheran Identities and the Recognition of “the Others” in Swedish Local Sermons, 1790–1820

13.00–14.00  LUNCH BUFFEE (hall 504)

14.00–15.00  SESSION 8 (hall 505)

Patricia Calváro (University of Porto): The Contribute of the Palamite Controversy (14thc.) for the Formation of the Hesychast Identity

Jukka Ruokanen (University of Jyväskylä): Dimensions of Tolerations in the Political Theory of Johannes Althusius

15.00–15.15   CLOSING WORDS, Virpi Mäkinen (hall 505)



Recognition and Religion: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives

Recognition and Religion: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives. Ed. Maijastiina Kahlos, Heikki J. Koskinen & Ritva Palmén. Routledge: London 2019.     

The book focuses on recognition and its relation to religion and theology, in both systematic and historical dimensions. While existing research literature on recognition and contemporary recognition theory has been gradually growing since the early 1990s, certain gaps remain in the field covered so far. One of these is the multifaceted interaction between the phenomena of recognition and religion.

Since recognition applies to persons, institutions, and normative entities like systems of beliefs, it also provides a very useful analytic and interpretative tool for studying religion. Divided into five sections, with chapters written by established scholars in their respective fields, the book explores the roots, history, and limits of recognition theory in the context of religious belief. Exploring early Christian and medieval sources on recognition and religion, it also offers contemporary applications of this underexplored combination.



The Nature of Forgiveness in Philosophical Theology: Prof. Jonathan Rutledge in Brown Bag, Fri 15 March at 12

Prof. Rutledge’s paper is titled “The Nature of Forgiveness in Philosophical Theology”.
Comments: Doc. Aku Visala
Venue: Faculty of Theology, Faculty Hall 524
“Although Christian theologians often debate the appropriate conditions for offering forgiveness to wrongdoers, whether at the individual level or the socio-political one, their focus rarely turns to an in-depth analysis concerning the question of what forgiveness is. However, particular accounts of the nature of forgiveness matter to determining when it would be appropriate to offer forgiveness to one’s wrongdoers. Thus, it is unfortunate that the question of forgiveness’ nature has not been given significant attention in theology. When we turn to the philosophical literature on the nature of forgiveness, we find that much of it proceeds on the assumption that questions in theology are independent of, or irrelevant to, questions of forgiveness’ nature. There are two prominent accounts of the nature of forgiveness in this literature: the foreswearing resentment model and the foregoing punishment model. It is the goal of this paper (i) to assess these popular models of forgiveness by the application of theological constraints on the adequacy of any definition of forgiveness and (ii) to defend an alternative functional definition of forgiveness, that satisfies the theological and philosophical data.”

1 February 2019: Faith and the Will to Believe – A Comparative Workshop in Pragmatism and Medieval Philosophy

Faculty of Theology
Vuorikatu 3, 2nd floor’s library (209)
For more information: nicolas.faucher@helsinki.fi

10 am Introduction by Risto Saarinen
10.15 am Ritva Palmén: “Free Movement of the Mind: Wonder in Twelfth-Century Philosophical Psychology”
11.15 am Mark Boespflug: “Faith, the Akrasia Objection and the Possibility of Believing Voluntarily in Peter of Ailly”
12.15 Lunch break
1.45 pm Nicolas Faucher: “Conscience and Authority: James and Peirce on the Medieval Views on Belief”
2.45 pm Sami Pihlström: “The Will to Believe and Holistic Pragmatism”
4.15 pm Dan-Johan Eklund: “Doxastic Voluntarism and Christian Faith”
5.15 pm Conclusion
6 pm Dinner at Ateljé Finne (for the speakers)

In his famous essay on “The Will to Believe”, William James has this to say on scholastic thought: 

“Scholastic orthodoxy, to which one must always go when one wishes to find perfectly clear statement, has beautifully elaborated this absolutist conviction in a doctrine which it calls that of ‘objective evidence.’ If, for example, I am unable to doubt that I now exist before you, that two is less than three, or that if all men are mortal then I am mortal too, it is because these things illumine my intellect irresistibly. The final ground of this objective evidence possessed by certain propositions is the adequatio intellectus nostri cum re[the agreement of our intellect with the thing known]. The certitude it brings involves an aptitudinem ad extorquendam certum assensum[an aptitude for extorting a certain assent from our intellect] on the part of the truth envisaged, and on the side of the subject a quietem in cognitione[ a quiet rest in knowledge], when once the object is mentally received, that leaves no possibility of doubt behind; and in the whole transaction nothing operates but the entitas ipsa[entity itself] of the object and the entitas ipsaof the mind.”


“Scholastic orthodoxy” seems to refer here more to Aquinas and his school than to any other scholastic thinker or trend. But James’ general view nonetheless aptly reflects the medieval scholastic common opinion. It is indeed true that, for virtually all medieval thinkers, there are some propositions that, whether, as James affirms, they “illumine” the human intellect, or they are known through the intellect’s light, can be assented to with perfect and irrefragable certainty, which constrains the intellect, and beyond which no further intellectual examination is required, or indeed possible.

There is, however, another kind of light, afforded by grace, that many medieval thinkers accept. This light, which was described in many different ways all along the 13thcentury, neither constrains the human intellect to assent to the truth of the objects of faith, nor does it put its investigation to rest. Rather it makes it see the objects of faith as things that must be believed.

The vocabulary medieval authors use to describe this apprehension is strikingly similar to James’ vocabulary when he describes what might be called, in his terms, our passional relation to live hypotheses. Where he speaks of “scintillat[ing] with credibility”, where he says that,“for us, not insight, but the prestige of the opinions, is what makes the spark shoot from them and light up our sleeping magazines of faith”, Aquinas speaks of a “simple light” of faith which “non-discursively” shows that we must believe this or that object. More strikingly, Peter John Olivi, a crucial author among 13thcentury scholastics, speaks of the relucentia, the “light-reflection” of objects of faith, as well as, more generally, the scintillatiothat characterizes actions we must perform, as they are presented by our conscience, including acts of faith. Many other authors provide similar descriptions.

Light metaphors are omnipresent in both James and medieval thinkers as regards belief, faith, or credulitas, but does that mean that there is anything in common in their philosophical views? Our working hypothesis is that there is, inasmuch as both James’ view and the medieval family of views describe an experience that is supposed to be universal; not founded on reason but on volition, emotion, and desire; and leading us to propositional belief in a certain set of objects.

Even more crucially, perhaps, that our religious belief be a choice in the most proper sense of the term is an essential feature of both James’ view and the whole medieval Latin tradition’s family of views. The idea that believing is a full-fledged choice for which we may be considered responsible; that our affective relation with what must be believed and the proponent of what must be believed (God, the Church, a certain community, etc.) plays a fundamental role in our coming to believe; that taking into account our interest in believing (whether it be coming to know the truth or reaching salvation) is at the basis of our choice are all features of both pragmatist views of belief and medieval Latin views.

Of course, there are some obvious differences. Whether James defends a kind of direct doxastic voluntarism remains an open question, while medieval authors usually clearly defend either a direct or indirect conception of doxastic voluntarism. It also seems that, while James appears to think our will to believe is triggered even before we adopt any view of our ability to reach the truth, whether empiricist or absolutist, to reprise the alternative he presents, the medieval authors seem to think of the light of faith in an absolutist framework: one can know that they ought to believe something, even though they do not immediately apprehend its truth.

 Beyond such differences, it seems possible and of great interest to ask some common questions of these different conceptions. What is the experience of having to believe? What are the warrants of belief that can be constructed on the basis of this experience? What is the precise role of the will in the process leading to belief? What kind of influences determine what we want to believe, what we feel we must believe, what we end up believing? More broadly, what are the common elements of medieval Latin and Pragmatist epistemologies? The proposed workshop is an invitation to examine the answers to these questions provided by the medieval Latin tradition and the Pragmatist tradition, and to see whether, across the centuries, their confrontation might allow us to glimpse some universal feature in philosophical conceptions of belief, especially voluntary belief.

CoE Retreat 2018 at Tvärminne

This year’s CoE retreat focused on two main questions: What has been already done and what are the future plans.

The new members of each team gave a brief presentation of their research topic. Vilja Alanko from team one spoke about her research which based on the early Christian hagiography. She took three saints as her example figures, namely, Saint Tecla, Saint Makrina and Saint Mary of Egypt.

Mikko Posti from team two spoke about just war and identity formation using some canon lawyers and Henry of Ghent’s quodlibetal questions.as his source material.

Sara Gehlin and Panu Pihkala, new members of team three introduced us their main research projects: Sara’s research focuses on the role of women in peace-building processes and she is especially interested in ecumenical peace theology with feminist theological discourses.

At the end of the retreat we discussed about future seminars and conferences as well as other ideas to continue already existing co-operation between team members after the CoE, for example, to apply new research projects. This was a theme we discussed very intensively in my car while driving back to Helsinki.


New co-operation with Al Amana Centre in Oman

The CoE has started to co-operate with Al Amana Centre in Oman. The Centre focuses especially on enhancing possibilities for different groups to come together for a joint process of dialog. The Centre also lifts up the role of religion in dialogue. See more in https://www.alamanacentre.org.