Bob Sweetman

Professional headshot of Robert Sweetman

H. Evan Runner Chair in the History of Philosophy

Chair, Academic Council

Contact Me:

bsweetman@icscanada.edu

416-979-2331 x231

Something Worth Considering...

"The motive driving me to work especially on this subdivision within the history of philosophy was not the expectation of arriving at the originary source of my own systematic . . . Rather, I was moved by the simple conviction that in any historical process, what precedes will determine what comes afterwards, in large measure if not in its entirety."

— D.H.Th. Vollenhoven, "The Consequential Problem-Historical Method"

About My Work

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.

Research Foci

  • Narrative in Ancient and Medieval Thought

  • Rhetoric in Ancient and Medieval Thought

  • Spiritual Exercise in Ancient and Medieval Thought

  • Philosophical Historiography of the History of Philosophy

  • The History of Reformational Thought

Biography

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 “problem-historical” 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.

Publications

My Books

My Articles, Book Chapters, and Other Works

Scholasticism

  • "Univocity, Analogy and the Mystery of Being According to John Duns Scotus." Creation, Covenant and Participation: Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition. Ed. James K.A. Smith and James H. Olthuis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 73-87.

  • "John Paul II's Account of the Unity of Christian Scholarship in Fides et Ratio." That the World May Believe: Essays on Mission and Unity in Honour of George Vandervelde. Ed. Margaret O’Gara and Michael Goheen. Lanham MD: University Press of America, 2006. 203-214.

  • "Haunting Conceptual Boundaries: Miracle in the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas." Limina: Thresholds and Boundaries. Ed. J. Goering, F. Guardini and G. Silano New York: Legas, 2005. 63-72.

  • "Plotting the Margins: An Historical Episode in the Management of Social Plurality." Towards an Ethics of Community: Negotiations of Difference in a Pluralist Age. Ed. James H. Olthuis. Waterloo ON: Wildred Laurier University Press, 2001. 11-35.

  • "When Popular Piety and Theological Learning Conjoin: St. Bonaventure on Demonic Powers and the Christian Soul." Fides et Historia 23 (1991): 4-18.

"Mythologizing" Platonism

  • "Love, Understanding, and the Mystical Knowledge of God." Mystics, Visions and Miracles. Ed. J. Goering, F. Guardiani, G. Silano. New York: Legas, 2002. 173-183.

Mysticism

  • "Exempla and the Promotion of Religious Identity: Gerard of Frachet’s Vitae fratrum." Weapons of Mass Instruction: Secular and Religious Institutions Teaching the World. ed. Joseph Goering, Francesco Guardiani, Giulio Silano. Ottawa: Legas, 2008 41-50.

  • "Nisi necessitate et utilitate: Catherine of Sienna’s Dominican Confessors and the Principles of a Licit Pastoral 'Irregularity'." Rule Makers and Rule Breakers. Ed. Joseph Goering, Francesco Guardiani, Giulio Silano. Ottawa: Legas, 2006. 199-210.

  • "Christine the Astonishing." Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Margaret Schmauss. New York: Routledge, 2006.

  • "Talking Dirty, Analogically Speaking." Pro Rege 32 (2004): 16-19.

  • "Thomas of Cantimpré and the Performative Reading of Scripture: A Study in Two Exempla," With Reverance for the Word: Medieval Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ed. J. MacAuliffe, Barry Walfish and Joseph Goering. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 256-275.

  • "Love, Understanding, and the Mystical Knowledge of God." Mystics, Visions and Miracles. Ed. J. Goering, F. Guardiani, G. Silano. New York: Legas, 2002. 173-183.

  • "Of Women, Ire and Other Dangerous Things." Fides et Historia 32 (2000): 127-133.

  • "Thomas of Cantimpré, Performative Reading and Pastoral Care." Performance and Transformation: New Approaches to Late Medieval Spirituality. Ed. Mary Suydam and Joanna Ziegler. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 134-163.

  • "Thomas of Cantimpré, Mulieres Religiosae and Purgatorial Piety: Hagiographical Vitae and the Beguine 'Voice'." In a Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard E. Boyle O.P. ed. Jacqueline Brown and William Stoneman. Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame, 1997. 606-626.

  • "Christianity, Women and the Medieval Family." Religion, Feminism and the Family. The Family, Religion and Culture. Ed. Anne Carr and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. Louisville: John Knox/Westminster Press, 1996. 127-147.

  • "Visions of Purgatory and Their Role in the Bonum universale de apibus of Thomas of Cantimpré." Ons Geestelijk Erf 67 (1993): 20-33.

  • "Christine of St. Trond and Her Preaching Apostolate: Thomas of Cantimpré's Hagiographical Method Revisited." Vox Benedictina 7 (1992): 67-97.

I have been attempting to bring these disparate studies together for a number of years into a book-length synthesis entitled Exemplary Care: Stoic Therapy, Dominican Pastoral Literature and the Transformation of the Human Person, 1225-1275 in which I articulate what I am coming to see as the proper spheres of narrative and argumentative understanding in interaction with these medieval interlocutors.

In addition, I have taken responsibility for thinking about and using stories to understand the Reformational tradition of Christian scholarship that continues to animate the teaching and writing of ICS faculty. This has taken the form of two book-length studies. I edited and contributed to a study, entitled In the Phrygian Mode: Antiquity, Neo-Calvinism and the Lamentations of Reformational Philosophy (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 2007), examining the Reformational tradition in its relation to Antiquity, both as a source of philosophical and theological thought but also as a perduring cultural ideal. A second book-length study entitled Tracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship (Currents in Reformational Thought series, Wipf and Stock, 2016) attempts to relate the Reformational tradition to sister traditions within the Christian academy and to the sources it shares with them. The point is to suggest ways of thinking that serve to foster renewed communication and cross-fertilization among the traditions around the Christian integrity of scholarship and that serve as well to invite thought about faith and scholarship among groups of Christian scholars not presently attracted to the enterprise.

More of my projects can be found listed on the ICS Research Portal.

Files

Teaching

Courses and Syllabi

Theses Supervised at ICS

ICS MA/MPhilF

      • Richard Greydanus, "'All that Man Has and Is:' A Study of the Historiographical Concerns Guiding the Work of Christopher Dawson"—Defended October 2008.

      • Carlos Bovell, "Rhetoric More Geometrico in Proclus' Elements of Theology and Boethius' De Hebdomadibus" Defended November 2007.

      • Michael Mols, "Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs: A Contemporary Encounter with Contemplative Aspirations" Defended November 2007.

      • Yvana Mols, "Weil, Truth and Life: Simone Weil and Ancient Pedagogy as a Way of Life" Defended August 2007.

      • Stephan Zylstra, "Teleology in the Thought of William of Ockham" Defended July 2007.

      • Jon Zeyl, "Michel Foucault's ascesis and the Christian technique de soi" Defended August 2006.

      • Eric Kamphof, "The Tri-unity of Life: On the Unity of the Vollenhovian Project" Defended October 2004.

      • Yorick Schultz-Wackerbarth, "Discovering Connection: The Dynamic Tension and a 'More-Than' in an Eckhartian Conception of the Soul" Defended April 2004

      • Michael De Moor, "Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself: Thomas Reid's Epistemology in the Light of Aristotle's De Anima" Defended October 2003.

      • Yana Filippenko, "The Metaphor of Language in St. Augustine's Philosophy of Imago Dei" Defended November 2000.

      • Chris Cuthill, "Mutilated Music: Towards an After Auschwitz Aesthetic" Defended November 1999.

ICS/VU PhD

      • Adam Barkman, "The Philosophical Christianity of C.S. Lewis: Its Sources, Content and Formation"—Defended June 2009.

Theses Supervised at TST

TST MTh

      • Andrea Budgey, "Diversity as Religious Good in Late Medieval England: Uthred of Bolden's Diversitas vivendi in Context"—(Trinity), Approved 2006.

      • Pauline Head, "'I would be One of Them and Suffer With Him': Relationship, Sin and Redemption in Julian of Norwich’s Theology of the Trinity"—(Trinity), Approved 2004

      • Henry MacErlain OESA, "Presuppositions to Education According to St. Augustine on Religious Education"—(St. Michael's), Approved 2004

      • Colin Kerr, "The Human Author in the Exegesis of St. Augustine's Early Episcopate"—(St. Michael's), Approved October 2002.

      • Jeremy Bergen, "The Politics of History in John Milbank's Use of Augustine's City of God"—(St. Michael's), Approved October 2002.

TST PhD

      • Kevin Vaughan, "Thomas Aquinas' Mystical Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel in the Lectura Super Ioannem"—(St. Michael's), Defended January 2009.

      • Michael Dempsey, "Fully Human, Fully Divine: The Mystery of Divine Providence in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth" Ph.D. (St. Michael's), Defended September 2003.