April 2014‎ > ‎

2. Faculty Spotlight: Robert Sweetman

Robert Sweetman, H. Evan Runner Chair in the History of Philosophy, BA (Calvin College), MSL (The Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies), PhD (University of Toronto)

Robert (Bob) Sweetman is a trained medievalist specializing in Dominican thought (philosophical, theological, pastoral, mystical) in the thirteenth century. He is particularly interested in the interaction of these different discourses in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, and others. He also is interested in the florescence of women’s contemplative thought and writing that Dominicans supported. He brings these interests and competencies into contact with the Reformational tradition of Christian thought by using them to examine D.H.Th. Vollenhoven’s “problemhistorical” historiography of the history of philosophy. Bob is currently finishing a book-length manuscript on the relationship between narrative and argument in thirteenth-century Dominican thought.

Bob has been on sabbatical in this academic year (2013–14). He has had the pleasure and luxury of inhabiting an office tucked away among the rafters of Toronto’s Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies (PIMS) and participating in its scholarly life including the annual seminar that it runs for its Mellon Fellows pursuing postdoctoral research within the context of PIMS’ Licentiate Program. He has been using this opportunity to research and write a monograph on the virtues of science and religion in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth century Dominican philosopher and theologian who has come to bear the honorific Universal Doctor within the Catholic intellectual tradition. The point is to use Aquinas’s discussion of religion and science as human virtues (as opposed to say distinct social spheres) as a conversation changer in our contemporary struggle to understand the proper relation of science and religion in the context of a post-Enlightenment culture and with the eyes of faith. Of course, this involves understanding Aquinas within his own and unfamiliar pre-Enlightenment context and then identifying ways in which his thought proves helpfully suggestive to us as we face our post-Enlightenment culture with its particular and familiar challenges to faithful thinking. He is currently working on the most creative and original section of the book, Aquinas’ treatment of the “life of Christ” in his Summa theologiae against the background of the literary and philosophical tradition of the biography he inherited and sought to develop. For it is here that he was convinced we encounter the lineaments of the human form of living well, indeed perfectly, that provides us all the vicarious experience we would otherwise lack of what it means to realize God’s intentions for us in our concrete living, to realize the shape of faith-filled human flourishing, the outline of what Christ promised us as the life abundant (and the role of science and religion within it, of course). Bob has been test-driving prototypes of the eventual chapter over the past two months. A first test-drive entitled “Admiratio, Imitatio and the Vita Christi in the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas” was delivered on March 6 at the New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Sarasota, FL. A second and much more thorough test drive was presented to the PIMS faculty and Mellon Fellows (plus other interested parties within the University of Toronto community of scholars) on April 9 at PIMS. Bob hopes fervently that a complete draft of the whole monograph will exist by the time he takes up again the full range of his ordinary duties at ICS in the beginning of July.