June Welcome Letter

Dear Travelers:

I’m looking forward to exploring the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa with you this summer! My charge during our time together is to lead excursions — intellectual journeys — to some of the extraordinarily rich cultures that flourished in the western Mediterranean during late antiquity and the Middle Ages (roughly 350-1200 CE).

Photo by Rafael Albaladejo

The quantity and variety of material from the ancient and medieval cultures of the region with a legitimate claim on our attention is overwhelming. The scholarly expertise I bring to the tour, however, has much narrower limits. I’ll be helping us think about religious and philosophical ideas that were urgent in their time and have since become deeply embedded in western culture, modes of thought that continue to shape our understanding of ourselves and our world. I’ll focus my lectures on a broad theme: the conflict between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and the monumental philosophical traditions (Greek and Roman) of the ancient world. We’ll look at three great thinkers — one from each religious tradition — who struggled mightily to understand the relationship between their faith and their deep commitment to the power of human reason. Consistent with that focus, our discussions will range widely over a variety of topics having to do with the history and cultures of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean world. Your interests and expertise and that of the tour’s professional local guides will be a valuable supplement to what I have to offer.

In order to introduce myself and my wife, Jane Twentyman MacDonald, who will be accompanying us, and to give you some suggestions for preparatory reading, I’ve set up a website (URL at the bottom of this page). I know that many of you will want to spend some time doing a bit of reading before we depart for Lisbon in August. If you’re able to do some reading, led by your own special interests and your own resources of time and energy, then collectively we’ll bring to the group enterprise a wealth of ideas, insights, and informed curiosity — a rich basis for discussion.

If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to be in touch.

I’m very much looking forward to the tour. In the meantime, enjoy your preparations for Ancient Cities of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula!

Scott MacDonald

Professor of Philosophy

N. K. Regan Professor in Christian Studies

macdonald (at) cornell (dot) edu

Study tour website: http://scottmacdonald.net/cau2023/