I started out as a medievalist with an eye for odd stories that lay bare the religious impulses at play in the cultures of the Middle Ages. I have become over time an historian of philosophy. As I practice my new trade I find I continue to have an eye for stories, even odd stories, inherent within ancient and medieval thought. What has changed is that my eye is now formed as much by a philosophical agenda as by scholarly delight in telling stories. In fact I want to know all about stories and arguments. When do you best understand life via story and when are you better served by clever argument? That question turns out to be surprisingly complicated. I have traded odd stories for odd scholarly conjunctions. I need to know how thought and language are shaped. What shapes lead to persuasion, by which I mean falling in love with the world so articulated? What shapes trigger suspicion? In my need, I have become a student of figures: conceptual figures, narrative figures, linguistic, imaginative and literary figures. This study has directed me to theory: rhetorical and literary theory, as well as problem-based approaches to philosophical texts and the conceptual figures they mediate—historiographical theory, you might say. All of this philosophical interest, I bring to the study of medieval thought and its ancient sources: in particular, 1. the high scholasticism of the thirteenth century; 2. the “myth”-centred Platonism of the twelfth century; and 3. the mystical flowering among women and men religious in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In my teaching and writing I illumine the ways thinkers, operating within each of these thought traditions, deployed narrative and argument in order to understand themselves, God and the world. The point of it all is to learn from as well as about women and men who, though very different from ourselves, are yet in our cultural DNA, and whose lives and texts were permeated by the active presence of faith.
My Research Foci
Robert Sweetman, PhD
H. Evan Runner Chair in the History of Philosophy
BA (Calvin College), MSL (The Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies), PhD (University of Toronto)
Robert 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.