Robert Sweetman

Professional headshot of Robert Sweetman

Emeritus H. Evan Runner Chair in the History of Philosophy

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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


Robert Sweetman, PhD

Emeritus 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.


My Books

Select Articles, Book Chapters, and Other Works


"Mythologizing" Platonism


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.



Courses and Syllabi

Theses Supervised at ICS



Theses Supervised at TST