Masterclass: A Greek Philosopher and Priest of Apollo in Rome. Plutarch’s Religious Philosophy and its Impact on Christian Thinking

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Plutarch, the Platonist philosopher and priest of Apollo at Delphi, is the most prolific and erudite Greek author with an enormous oeuvre covering issues ranging from history and biography through natural sciences and art to ethics and theology. During his stay in Rome Plutarch wrote lives of illustrious Greeks and Romans and expressed in some of them his view of religion and God (Romulus, Numa, Cicero). The seminar will have a special focus on these Lives together with Roman Questions and other writings discussing matters of religion and theology. Plutarch discussed religious traditions from various cultural backgrounds (Greek and Roman, but also Egyptian, Indian, Persian) as leading to what he called a “mystery-like theology”, to the truth about the divine. In the seminar, we will discuss Plutarch’s attitude towards the traditions of lived religion, their hermeneutics and philosophical theology (polylatric monotheism). Further, we will follow the receptions of Plutarch’s thought in the Church fathers and throughout western philosophical and ethical tradition.
The method adopted in the course will be a close reading of some crucial passages from selected works of Plutarch on Roman and Egyptian religions, Judaism, religious imagery and divination at Delphi, the role of theology in philosophical arguments, polylatric monotheism, and more. The close reading will be accompanied by literary, philosophical and theological interpretation.

Target group and prerequisites
The course is open to a maximum of 10 selected participants. The course is intended for (R)MA students (MA and Research MA) as well as PhD students.
The target group of the course are students in Classics, Religious Studies, Theology, Philosophy, Ancient History, or similar fields, enrolled in one of KNIR partner universities in the Netherlands (RU, RUG, UL, UU, UvA, VU). International students can be admitted to the course but may be asked a tuition fee, please contact KNIR before applying.

Course material
A reader of the most important texts in Greek with English translation will be provided in advance (online)

Course format and assignments
The course is organized by and hosted at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR). It consists of a 5 days intensive seminar period in Rome, with lectures, discussions and excursions. During the seminar, each participant delivers an oral presentation on a topic of their choice. Before the seminar students will be assigned a text of Plutarch relevant for the topic of their oral presentation as well as some preparatory reading. They will also be assigned a concluding essay (6.000 words), deadline 15 March 2021.

Credits and assessment

The study load is the equivalent of 4 ECTS  Each student should arrange with his/her home coordinator whether the course can be a part of the existing curriculum. After successful completion of the course the KNIR provides a certificate mentioning study load and evaluation.
The study load is based on:
a) Before the seminar in Rome, independent study of course material and preparatory assignment: 1 ECTS;
b) Intensive seminar in Rome (5 days): active participation, oral presentation and essay proposal: 2 ECTS;
c) After the seminar: essay of 6.000 words: 1 ECTS.
Assessment takes place on the basis of preparatory assignment, based on the study of course material (10%), active participation and on-site presentation (40%), and the concluding essay (50%).

Facilities in Rome
All participants will be housed at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome’s Villa Borghese Park. From there, it is only a short walk to the historical center of Rome. The KNIR accommodation consists of shared bedrooms and bathrooms, and includes a living and dining space, a large kitchen, washing machine and wireless internet.* All residents have 24/7 access to the library and gardens of the Royal Netherlands Institute.

* The KNIR accommodations comply with all safety and health requirements, also in light of  COVID-19.