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Knowledge in Motion


  • Deutsches Haus at NYU 42 Washington Mews New York, NY, 10003 United States (map)

Knowledge is always in motion, even – and especially – where it appears to remain stable and tradition-bound.

October16 | 6.30pm Panel Discussion at Deutsches Haus NYU

October 17 | 10am Workshop at Deutsches Haus NYU

Premodern institutions and communities were regularly engaged in vibrant transcultural relations while their systems of knowledge were subject to constant change. Because the forms of exchange involved frequently challenge modern notions both of period boundaries and cultural spaces, they can be investigated in their full complexity only in an effort that is both collective and transdisciplinary.

The Berlin-based Collaborative Research Centre “Episteme in Motion” meets this challenge and analyses the economies of knowledge transfer in selected premodern cultures from Europe and beyond. It draws on a unique reservoir of academic disciplines, including Arabic Studies, Jewish Studies, Classics, Medieval and Early Modern Literatures. The Centre’s individual projects examine knowledge transfer in a variety of cultural contexts ranging from medicine to visual art, from philosophy to literature and from linguistics to theology.

Events at Deutsches Haus are free and open to the public. If you would like to attend this event, please send an email to deutscheshaus.rsvp@nyu.edu

Gyburg Uhlmann is Professor of Classical Greek Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin and Head of the Collaborative Research Centre “Episteme in Motion. Transfer of Knowledge from the Ancient World to the Early Modern Period”. Her project – titled “Processes of Creating Tradition in Late Antique Commentaries of De interpretatione” – is concerned with the late antique and early medieval Greek and Latin commentaries on Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings on language theory. For a long time, these commentaries were believed to be the prototype of an entirely static tradition of knowledge, hostile towards all creative impulses. The project seeks, however, to examine the diverse and innovative ways in which the commentators structured their arguments when dealing with doctrinal authorities.

Andrew James Johnston is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin and Deputy Head of the Collaborative Research Centre. His Project “Artefacts, Treasures and Ruins – Materiality and Historicity in the Literature of the English Middle Ages” focuses on the special epistemic status of material objects in English medieval literature (c. 700–1500). The project examines how literary texts act as a means of imagining configurations where objects become part of networks that allow them to take part in exchanges with their environment, sometimes up to the point where the objects are invested with a capacity for autonomous action.

Anita Traninger is Professor of Romance Philology at the Freie Universität Berlin and a member of the Collaborative Research Centre’s board of directors. Her project “Erotema. The Question as an Epistemic Genre in the Learned Societies of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries” focuses on the forms and media of scholarly debates in learned societies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, within an institutional context demarcated by the poles of the university, on the one hand, and the academy, on the other. The project examines how, in the early academies, debates about knowledge were framed as prize questions and what kind of truth-function was attributed to the answers. The period’s characteristic shifts between orality and literacy provide the overarching framework for the project.

Nora Katharina Schmid is an Arabist and member of the project “From Logos to Kalām: Figurations and Transformations of Knowledge in Near Eastern Late Antiquity”. The Islamic culture of knowledge is increasingly being recognized as a continuation of the intellectual traditions of Late Antiquity. In order to show that the transfer of knowledge from late antiquity was by no means limited to philosophy and the sciences, this project examines core elements of what has been seen as the ‘genuinely Arabic’ canon of knowledge, namely the Qur’an and Islamic Qur’an studies and Qur’an linguistics. Nora K. Schmid examines the actualization of God’s word in speech and cult as well as the role this process played in knowledge formation in early Arabic Islamic culture, particularly in ascetic contexts.

Lennart Lehmhaus is a post-doctoral research associate within the Collaborative Research Centre. In a project on encyclopedic medical episteme in Late Antiquity, he looks at talmudic representations of medical discourses, their particular (i.e. “Jewish”) epistemologies and encyclopedic dimensions. This inquiry into transfers and transformations of such knowledge combines comparative perspectives on Graeco-Roman, (Ancient) Near Eastern and early Christian traditions with a theoretical approach grounded both in rabbinic studies and in the history and anthropology of science and knowledge. The project studies epistemic productivity and creativity of the seemingly conserving and conservative genre of commentaries and encyclopedia as they took place concurrently in the late antique Talmudic traditions from Palestine and Babylonia as well as in early Byzantine medical compilations in Greek.