Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The man behind the curtain...

Welcome to my blog. This site will contain posts about the historical study of medieval theology. Some posts will be my own musings about my current research, while others will concern topics that I have been addressing in class. I might even on occasion pontificate on current topics that are relevant--but I try to avoid being relevant as a matter of principle!

Transparency is an important value to me as a teacher and scholar, so let me begin with who I am and where I come from: I was born and raised in Toronto and completed all my education in that city. I was very fortunate to do my graduate studies at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto--and also to study with some of the Research Fellows at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies there. I've been teaching and researching for nearly fourteen years--seven years in the UK and seven years in the USA.

My approach to my areas of teaching and publishing is framed by two important commitments: first, I have been trained as a medievalist who sees the primacy of text in historical research. I'm interested in how medieval theologians drew from texts to create other texts as the containers of their ideas. I say containers not just to be trendy, but to remind myself that ideas are not just bound to the written page, but have an intimate connection with the social and institutional contexts. I'm therefore interested in understanding how theological works reflect their historical context and I try to examine how they also tried to transform that context.

The second commitment really has the greater priority in my life, and that is my Christian Faith. I used to think my faith journey was unusual, but it really isn't. I was raised in an evangelical family that infused me with a love of Scripture and constant exposure to the Gospel. I became interested in theological study and was considering professional ministry when I fell in love with history and the Middle Ages in particular. While a doctoral student, I began a serious reflection on who I was as a Christian and came to the decision to become a Roman Catholic. My main reason for doing so--which still flummoxes my Protestant friends and family--was the primacy of the Bible in Catholic liturgy and teaching. I remain deeply grateful for my upbringing and so I suppose as a result I would be considered ecumenical in outlook. My faith affects my life of study since I take seriously the content of medieval theology. It is not just a historical riddle that needs solving, nor simply an object of intellectual curiosity. However, I am not partisan in my approach. I have no problem identifying mistakes in the medieval experience, and I don't think the Middle Ages is a lost Golden Age. However, I do see this period as the most creative in Western Civilization and its theological work as the most fascinating.

I love being in the classroom as much as writing. There are days that I can't believe I get paid for doing my job (and there are days I look at my paycheck and think maybe I'm not...). There's nothing more exciting for me than watching a student become interested in scholarship and develop the confidence to make a contribution. And, I get to learn things along the way.

One final thing about me: I'm a geek (well, maybe a dork--I can never distinguish these two categories). I love computers and consider myself a very amateur Perl hacker. I have created one electronic text resource (the Electronic Grosseteste:, and two 3DRT models (the Virtual Basilica of St Francis of Assisi and the Virtual York Minster). I am working another electronic text project and I am always looking for more 3DRT projects.

I look forward to the exchange of ideas that this site will hopefully generate.