Symposia and Seminars

From Ancient Theology to Civil Religion, From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment


Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena representing Hermes Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses (1480s)

Monday and Tuesday 9-10 November 2015
University of Sydney

Recent scholarship on the “radical Enlightenment” (J. Israel) has emphasized the theologico-political strategies adopted by this philosophical movement in order to bring about a conception of the state that would be “neutral” or “tolerant” toward religious (and perhaps also non-religious, scientistic) world-views. Although one of the important concepts employed in this strategy turns around the idea of a civil religion (Spinoza, Rousseau, Jefferson), the pre-history of this civil or political conception of religion remains less explored. This symposium aims to bridge this gap by exploring the connections between the Renaissance idea of “ancient theology” and the Enlightenment idea of “civil religion.” Although both D.P. Walker and Frances Yates have argued that the Renaissance idea of “ancient theology” proved fundamental to the development of the European and Anglo-American Enlightenment, and in particular led to a republican conception of civil religion that inscribes religious tolerance into the political constitution, the precise nature of this filiation and its meaning remains to be explored. Moreover, not enough attention has been given to the ramifications of this movement for early eighteenth century theological writings, which, though resisting the secularist currents of the Enlightenment, similarly drew upon and reacted to the Hermetic tradition in the attempt to accommodate other religions within a Christian theological framework.

The symposium intends to bring together specialists in the conceptions of religion, politics and philosophy of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Among the issues addressed by the workshop are the following: the diffusion of the idea of concord during the Renaissance; the nature of the critique of Christianity in the Italian Renaissance and in the Enlightenment; the role of cosmology in the development of a civil use of religion; the discourse of prophetology from Machiavelli to Kant; the application of Hermetic theories in European encounters with the Islamic, Jewish and Chinese civilisations between the fourteenth and the seventeenth century.


  • Peter Anstey, University of Sydney
  • Francesco Borghesi, University of Sydney
  • Daniel Canaris, University of Sydney
  • John Gagné, University of Sydney
  • Umberto Grassi, University of Sydney
  • Fabrizio Lelli, Università del Salento
  • Jennifer Mensch, Western Sydney University
  • Jennifer Milam, University of Sydney
  • Vasileios Syros, Academy of Finland
  • Miguel Vatter, University of New South Wales
  • Anik Waldow, University of Sydney

Please contact Francesco Borghesi if you are interested in attending.

The Divided Brain and Humanistic Inquiry (SIHN@UWS)


Monday and Tuesday 23-24 November 2015
Parramatta Campus
University of Western Sydney

Call for Papers

Papers of 30 minutes duration are invited for this symposium around the importance of McGilchrist's work for scholars in the humanities and social sciences. We are interested in all papers by humanistic or social science scholars addressing the themes of McGilchrist's work. In particular, we are keen to hear from:

  • Scholars who have identified possible uptakes of McGilchrist's work on the history of the brain in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Scholars specialised in the history of left-right brain science, or in the history of neurology and psychiatry.
  • Scholars of the comparative history of religion, or of non-Western cultures, reflecting on the differences across cultures in the values placed on creativity, spirituality, social bonds, or on logic, bureaucracy and political power.
  • Scholars with expertise in the history of philosophy, literature or political thought who wish to engage with the account of the history of Western ideas and culture proposed in McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary.
  • Scholars specialising in forms of bioscientific-humanistic knowledge nexus.

All relevant proposals are welcome.Symposium papers should be original and not committed for publication elsewhere, as an edited volume of scholarly papers is planned to follow from the event. Please send an abstract (300-400 words) and brief biography to Alison Moore before 1 June 2015. Successful applicants will be notified by 1 July 2015.

The Sydney Intellectual History Network @ UWS is delighted to bring to Sydney Dr Iain McGilchrist, internationally renowned British psychiatrist and scholar of the nexus between neuroscience and the history of ideas. Iain McGilchrist is the bestselling author of The Mastery and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and The Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2012) - a scientific study that simultaneously explores the unique features of humanistic inquiry in a biography of the brain in Western civilisation. In addition to being a comprehensive review of the science of left and right brain function, it is a meta-history of the rationalist and bureaucratic trends of Western thought and their effects on neurophysiology.To date it has sold over 60,000 copies worldwide and has been positively reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The American Journal of Psychiatry, The British Medical Journal, The Sunday Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Financial Times, The Independent, The Observer, Contemporary Review, The Huffington Post and numerous other reputable international presses and journals. Iain McGilchrist is one of the leading pioneers of a new interdisciplinary perspective that crosses between the bio-medical sciences and the humanities. As such, his work appears to indicate a path toward transcendence of the tired dichotomies that are still often proposed between cultural and biological influences on human behaviour, expression and experience.

Past Seminars

Reclaiming the Knowledge Commons: Challenging Corporatized Publishing Practices in Research and Scholarship

Wednesday 26 August 2015
State Library
Macquaries St

Chair: Dr Claire Hooker

Speakers include:

  • Emeritus Professor Stephen Leeder
  • Professor Paul Komesaroff
  • Associate Professor Andrew Bonnell
  • Dr John Byron


9-10:30am Session 1: Corporatization and the commercialization of knowledge

11am-12pm Session 2: Challenges to the power and function of the library

12-1pm Session 3: Democratizing knowledge or selling the farm?

2-4pm Session 4: Filling the void and fighting back: Emerging alternatives

Research Day in 18th Century Studies at the University of Sydney

Topic: 18th Century Philosophy in Dialogue


Adolph Menzel, German, 1850, Tafelrunde. Oil on canvas.

Friday 28 August 2015

University of Sydney

The Sydney Intellectual History Network (SIHN) is sponsoring a Research Day in Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Sydney on 28 August 2015. The event supports the efforts of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (ANZSECS) in building a new community of scholars and postgraduate studies from a broad range of disciplines within the humanities.

The Research Day will begin with an interdisciplinary panel discussion with experts from a number of fields speaking on the relationships between philosophy, music, literature, art and architecture during the eighteenth century. Led by Dalia Nassar (Philosophy), the panel features visiting scholar Justin Smith (Université Paris Diderot - Paris VII) engaged in discussion with Jennifer Ferng (Architecture), Alan Maddox (Musicology), Jennifer Milam (Art History) and Matthew Sussman (English Literature). Postgraduate students will then take part in an intensive seminar (full description below) on The Praxis of Philosophy and the Role of the Philosopher in the Eighteenth Century with Professor Smith and Dr Nassar. A public lecture concludes the day with Professor Smith speaking on Philosophy as a Way of Life: Not Just for the Ancients. Please click here to register. The date marks the 266th anniversary of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s birth.

Interested postgraduate students currently enrolled in a PhD program at an Australian or New Zealand university may apply by sending a short CV (1-2 pages) and a brief statement of interest (max. 500 words) in a single pdf by 15 July 2015 to Martin King (

Travel support (up to $300) will be available for a limited number of students. Please indicate your interest in applying for travel support on your statement of interest.

Course credit may be possible for particular students. Please check with the postgraduate coordinator in your department.

Seminar: The Praxis of Philosophy and the Role of the Philosopher in the long 18th Century

In 18th-century France, philosophy was not only a course of academic study, it was also a fashion, a sensibility, and a way of life. It moved out of the universities and into the salons, and one's social status could be significantly impacted by one's proximity to, or association with, a given current of philosophy. What inspired this interest in philosophy, and which ideas were being popularized and why? What kinds of changes were taking place within philosophy and philosophy's self-understanding in this new setting? And how did the practice of philosophy transform through dialogue with other modes of knowledge (moral science, poetry and art, as well as natural philosophy)? What, ultimately, was the role and significance of philosophy in the long 18th century?

It seems to us that one crucial dimension of the answer to this question will involve a consideration of contemporary currents in Germany, of the way in which German philosophers of the same era were engaging with and seeking to define their discipline. We propose to look at the continental circulation of ideas in the 18th century in order to learn, if we can, how the tension between competing conceptions of philosophy, as produced and maintained in very different but closely interconnected national traditions, helped to shape the conception of philosophy that we have today.

Questions which we will be considering
  1. What is the relationship between salon culture and philosophy in the 18th century?
  2. What were the social forces in 18th century France that made it suddenly so important for people to become literate in philosophy? What were the causes of the phenomenon that the French call 'vulgarisation'? Or we might call the democratization of philosophy?
  3. How did these new social and learning spaces (the salons) transform gender identities and the meaning of literacy for women?
  4. Which ideas exactly were being popularized in the salons and why?
  5. What were the philosophical and political commitments of the salon?
  6. How did philosophy define itself in contrast to other disciplines and modes of knowledge?
  7. What kinds of transformations were taking place within philosophy, on account of new insights into the natural world and new forms of art?
  8. What might be described as a philosophical form or mode of knowledge and how does it differ from other modes of knowledge?
  9. What exactly was 'enlightened' about the new philosophical ideals? Can we find undercurrents of the older idea of what inquiry into nature involves in these new ideals?

IASH Research Symposium on Enlightenment Thinking

Thursday 6 August 2015
Seminar Room
Level 4, Forgan Smith Building
University of Queensland

We invite you to join us at this research event featuring new work by visiting scholars from the Center for Early Modern History at the
University of Minnesota, the Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment at Oxford University, and the Eighteenth-Century Centre at the University of Warwick.

The French Revolution and the Politics of Political Economy

Thursday 30 July
5.30-7.00 pm
Barbara Falk Room
Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education
First Floor
715 Swanston Street
University of Melbourne

Dr Charles Walton, Director of the 18th Century Centre at the University of Warwick, will speak on

“The French Revolution and the Politics of Political Economy"

The talk will focus on issues around redistribution and reciprocity, in the light of recent work on global commodities and credit in the 18th century.

SIHN Symposium on Enlightenment Thinking

Portrait of Denis Diderot

Louis-Michel van Loo, French, 1767, Portrait of Denis Diderot. Oil on canvas.

Monday 3 August 2015
Western Tower Room
University of Sydney

As part of SIHN's commitment to fostering multi-disciplinary dialogues, this symposium brings together researchers in History, French Studies, Science, Philosophy, Art History, English Literature, Medicine, and Economics to discuss key concepts of Enlightenment thought. We invite you to join us at this research event featuring new work by visiting scholars from the Center for Early Modern History at the University of Minnesota, the Bestermann Centre for the Enlightenment at Oxford University, and the Eighteenth-Century Centre at the University of Warwick. SIHN researchers will be responding to their papers. ANZSECS members are particularly welcome.

Making Governmental Subjects under Louis XIV: Biopolitics at the Académie Royale des Sciences Around 1700
JB Shank (Director, Center for Early Modern History, University of Minnesota)
Michel Foucault’s conception of the "governmentalized state," with its attendant notions of biopolitics and the care of the self within regimes of surveillance and techno-scientific power, has exerted a seminal influence in recent scholarship about the Enlightenment and its legacies. Yet the history of the emergence of the governmentalized state in Old Regime France has yet to be written. Shank will sketch an outline of such a history with reference to the governmentalizing reforms enacted in the French Royal Academies, especially the Académie Royale des Sciences, in 1699.
Respondents: Stephen Gaukroger and Ian Kerridge.

Crouching Venus, Nodding Pagod: Diderot and Possession/s
Kate Tunstall (Bestermann Centre for the Enlightenment, Oxford)
This paper is very much a work in progress; the aim is to look at the references in a number of Diderot's works to the thing of luxury that was the pagode or magot. The idea is to go beyond the standard claim that Diderot viewed such porcelain figures in the Chinese style as objects in bad taste, and instead to set out and explore the ways in which he, as a materialist, mobilizes them both to expose an unjust political economy that reduces people to objects, and to imagine one that would not.
Respondents: Jennifer Milam and William Christie.

The French Revolution: A Redistributive Crisis
Charles Walton (Director, Warwick Eighteenth-Century Centre)
This paper recasts the origins and radicalization of the French Revolution in terms of redistribution. In doing so, it proposes a new way of analyzing late eighteenth-century French politics. I argue for seeing political legitimacy as based, at least in part, on satisfying redistributive demands: for food, for pensions, for jobs, for subsidies, for patronage, for interest on public debt. I show how two particular redistributive demands - food and interest on the public debt - were central to political wrangling in 1789. How revolutionaries prioritized redistributive demands helps explain why politics radicalized.
Respondents: Tony Aspromourgos and Marco Duranti.

Gerald Postema’s Legal Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: The Common Law World Symposium

Legal Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: The Common Law World (Springer, 2011)

Monday 15 June 2015

Common Room (Level 4)
New Law Building
University of Sydney

A symposium on Gerald Postema’s Legal Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: The Common Law World (Springer, 2011).

10:00am Welcome

10:05am Associate Professor Carlos Bernal-Pulido (Macquarie University)

10:25am Professor Ngaire Naffine (University of Adelaide)

10:45am Professor Miguel Vatter (University of New South Wales)

11:05am Dr Kevin Walton (University of Sydney)

11:25am Morning Tea

11:45am Response by Professor Gerald Postema (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Gerald Postema

Professor Postema has published extensively in legal and political philosophy and ethics. In 2011 he published Legal Philosophy in the 20th Century: The Common Law World. He wrote Bentham and the Common Law Tradition (Clarendon 1986/1989) and edited Racism and the Law (Kluwer 1997); Rationality, Conventions, and the Law (Kluwer 1998); Jeremy Bentham: Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy (Ashgate 2002) and Philosophy and the Law of Torts (CUP 2001). He is associate editor of the 12 volume, Treatise in the Philosophy of Law (Springer 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011).

A selection of the jurisprudential writings of Sir Matthew Hale will also be published by Oxford University Press under his editorship. Former Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellow, and fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies and the National Humanities Center, he was editor of Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Law (1995-2006) and was special issues editor of Law and Philosophy (1996-2001). In fall, 2012, he was awarded the George J. Johnson Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Art and Humanities, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

SIHN Roundtable on the East-West Dialogue

East-West Dialogue

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American, 1864, Oil on wood panel, 19.7 x 27 in.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Room 210
R.C. Mills Buidling
Unversity of Sydney

Participants: Professor Petra Chu (Art History and Museum Studies, Seton Hall), Professor Yixu Lu (Germanic Studies), Professor William Christie (English), Dr Stephen Whiteman (Art History) and Dr David Brophy (History). Followed by a lecture by Professor Petra Chu entitled Chinoiserie and Japonisme: Continuity or Rupture.

History and the Individual Life: a Symposium

Joan of Arc

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, French, 1854. Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, Oil on canvas, 94 x 70 in. MI667

Monday 3 November 2014

CCANESA Boardroom
Level 4, Madsen Building
Unversity of Sydney

This symposium will move beyond current debates about the place of biography in history by exploring the different ways in which historians are currently using individual lives to explore and analyse particular questions in a range of different fields. The symposium will begin with a general discussion of this approach and then focus particularly on the use of individual lives in imperial and international history and in the history of animal human interaction.

Barbara Caine (University of Sydney), 'History and the Individual Life'

Glenda Sluga (University of Sydney), 'Can Women be Individuals? Writing women into the history of international politics'

Bill Schwarz (Queen Mary University of London), 'Coming Home to History. The Lives of Enoch Powell'

Andrew Fitzmaurice (University of Sydney), 'King Leopold's Ghostwriter?'

Iain McCalman (University of Sydney), 'JT jnr: the individual life story of an African vervet monkey'

Adorno's Changing Views of Kierkegaard

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Muniment Room
Room S401
Level 4 via Lobby B (Southern Vestibule)
The University of Sydney

Prof Peter Gordon (Amabel B. James Professor of History, and Faculty Affiliate, Department of Philosophy, Harvard University)

Theodor Adorno, the philosopher and social theorist, devoted great energy throughout his life to the interpretation of Kierkegaard’s philosophy. In this paper I reconstruct the history of Adorno’s intellectual engagement with Kierkegaard, from the early habilitation (first published in 1933) to the more sympathetic reassessments of Adorno’s later years. The chief task of my paper is to explain what Adorno meant when he characterized his habilitation on Kierkegaard as an exercise in “inverse theology,” and, furthermore, to explain why, much later, Adorno equated this species of theological with materialism

Visual Manipulation and Auto/Biography


Click to download (PDF, 58KB)

Tuesday 25 February 2014
3-5 pm

Kevin Lee Room
Level 6, Lobby H
Quadrangle Building
the University of Sydney

This seminar will combine the work of two art historians researching the visual self-representation of royal woman at the French court during the seventeenth century.

Dr Gaehtgens (an independent scholar based at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles) explores how Anne of Austria used multiplied images as visual propaganda to change her image from a widowed queen to a self-assured regent. In turn, Dr De Vitis (National Art School) considers the theatrical performances of Elizabeth Charlotte as substantive acts of socio-political critique, calculated and incisive.

Discussion will focus on how the visual - in prints and performance - can be conceived as a form of writing biography.

Revolutionary Ideas


Click to download (PDF, 113KB)

16 November 2013

Public Symposium, co-sponsored by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in conjunction with the exhibition America. Painting a Nation

Recovering untold stories

14 November 2013, 4-6pm
CANESSA Boardroom, Level 4, Madsen Building

This seminar will combine the work being done by Shane White on the little known Jeremiah G. Hamilton, 'the only Black millionaire in New York', with that being done by Laura Auricchio, from the New School in New York, seeking to re-interpret Lafayette and to re-insert him into his own time and place as a fallible human being.

Shane White, '"No Photograph, Howcum?": Writing a book about someone so obscure they didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry'

Laura Auricchio, 'Lafayette: Portrait of the American Hero as a French Man'

Putting yourself in the story

17 October 2013, 4-6pm
CANESSA Boardroom, Level 4, Madsen Building

The 'autobiographical turn' in humanities scholarship and the tendency of many contemporary scholars to link their own lives to their research has been the subject of much recent discussion. In this roundtable discussion, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Dany Celermajer and Barbara Caine will discuss their own work on autobiography within this framework. One of the questions on which they will reflect is how scholars make choices about positioning themselves as subjects in, in relation to, or outside their own research.