Report – Cusanus Society UK and Ireland
von Dr. Simon Burton
The Cusanus Society UK and Ireland was co-founded in 2019 by William Hyland (University of St Andrews) and Simon Burton (University of Edinburgh) in order to promote the study of the life, thought and legacy of Nicholas of Cusa. It aims to engage Cusanus on an inter-disciplinary level – historical, philosophical, theological, mystical, mathematical, scientific etc. – as well as to use his thought as a vantage point from which to survey broader intellectual and theological movements. It welcomes discussion of Cusanus’ precursors as well as his successors right up to the modern day. The Society follows the broad model of other similar international organisations such as the American Cusanus Society and the Deutsche Cusanus-Gesellschaft and has been very grateful for their support and encouragement. Thus while seeking to provide a specifically British and Irish venue for conferences and workshops on Cusanus, it also welcomes international membership, participation and collaboration. The Society is currently based on Scotland and its new website is hosted by the University of St Andrews. Its current activities include planned annual sessions at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds and planned annual or biennial workshops/conferences on specific themes.
The inaugural meeting of the Society took place on 4th July 2019 at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. The Society organised three successful panels on Nicholas of Cusa’s thought and influence. The first panel on “Conflicts and Controversies” offered perspectives on two major but somewhat neglected controversies that Cusa played a role in. Nathan Ron (Haifa University) gave a new perspective on Cusanus’ connections to the Crusading movement, while William Hyland (University of St Andrews) discussed his innovative contributions to late medieval Mariology. The second panel on “Reality and Materiality” explored the theme of material and mental artefacts in Cusanus and his followers. Silvianne Aspray (University of Cambridge) offered an insightful account of the relation between mathematics and Cusa’s theology of artefacts, while Simon Burton (University of Edinburgh) looked at the influence of Cusanus on the natural and mathematical dialectic of Peter Ramus. The third and final panel on “Philosophical Questions” explored different aspects of Cusan ontology. Luca Burzelli (Scuole Normale Superiore di Pisa) gave an analogical reading of Cusa’s metaphysics of being, James Bryson (University of Cambridge) revealed its aesthetic dimensions and Silvianne Aspray offered a thoughtful response, which led into an engaging but all too brief discussion involving everyone present. Afterwards members and panellists enjoyed dinner together and had a very fruitful opportunity to discuss the Society’s future plans and directions.
The Society is currently planning a further set of panels at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in 2020 with a focus on “Cusanus and the Friars”, especially his Dominican and Franciscan connections, but also ranging over other issues such as his reception in Italian Renaissance Neo-Platonism and early modern Reformed scholasticism. In Summer 2020 we are also hoping to organise a day conference in Edinburgh on the theme of metaphysical and mystical ascent and descent in the (broad) Cusan tradition.
Dr. Simon Burton, John Laing Senior Lecturer in Reformation History at the University of Edinburgh
Impressions from the Medieval Congess in Leeds (photos by Marco Brösch):