56th Annual Arthur L. Throckmorton Memorial Lecture
Date: 5:30pm PDT April 18 Location: Miller Hall, Room 105
Miller Hall, Room 105
Euan K. Cameron is Henry Luce III Professor of Reformation Church History at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York. The title of Professor Cameron’s talk is “Making Meaning of Time and History in the pre-modern Era.”
Unless we are philosophers or physicists, we tend to take time for granted. Especially, we take our scale of time – of days, months and years – as a given. We assume that, by and large, the major events of history happened at a known and settled date. We have, in fact, inherited what one might call a ‘scientific’ approach to time.
Yet for most of European Christian history the computing of time was not scientific, but religious. Our pre-modern forbears believed that time was created by God, in the same process which produced the visible universe. Consequently, those who computed time believed that they were investigating the purposes of God revealed across history.
This lecture will explore three stages in the emergence of early modern ideas about time in the West:
- The histories of the medieval chronicles, which sought to establish reliable frameworks for the history of the world according to peoples and kingdoms, and through the emergence of the divine purposes;
- The histories of the early Protestant Reformation, which argued that the purposes of God were revealed transparently through the rise and fall of kingdoms, and the rise, fall and recovery of the Christian Church;
- The beginnings of “scientific” chronology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which brought new insights from astronomy and mathematics into the computing of time, though still within a framework of divine creation and governance of the universe.
Through this story, the lecture will propose that while the quest for meaningful understanding of time and history was self-defeating, only through this search could humanity come to our current perspective of history and our place in it.