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Between Body and Soul: Cultural Change and Religious Transformations during the Reformation

Panel Chair: Alessandra Celati | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m.| Venue

Aware of the osmosis between cultural historical frameworks and religious dynamics, we aim to put the Protestant Reformation in context. Renaissance culture reshaped the conception of science in a way which was to become ripe with the rise of the Scientific Revolution, and Italy was the torchbearer of this phenomenon, being also quite a peculiar context from the point of view of the religious Reformation. Bearing this in mind and taking into account the Sixteenth-Century confessional entrenchment, our complementary papers will focus on Italy, highlighting the way a certain culture of the body intertwined with the religious discourse. Considering the strong interrelation between body and soul in early modern Christian culture, we aim to suggest original research perspectives: focusing on medicine as a pioneering field of analysis, we intend to examine the religious transformations that occurred during the age of the Reformation.

Alessandra Celati

Heretical physicians in the Italian Reformation: original perspectives on the matter of religious transformations

In Sixteenth-Century Italy, two cultural facts seemed interacting with one another: the aspiration for a religious Reformation and the relevance of Humanism, with its stress on philology and critical doubt. Considering the intersection between hese phenomena, my paper looks at the reception of the Reformation in the medical context, examining why a great number of Italian physicians embraced heterodox ideas. Focusing on original archive sources and a sound sample of dissident doctors, I will explain what was specific to their religious experience. Moreover, being body and soul so interconnected, the medical profession became competitive to Ecclesiastical authorities with regard to the provision of salvation. Bearing this in mind, the conflict which opposed physicians to clergymen illustrates the peculiar interrelation occurring between medicine and religion. Focusing on heretical doctors, my paper aims to present a fresh interpretation of sixteenth-century religious transformations, offering several perspectives on the complex dynamics underlying these changes.

Domizia Weber

Before and after the Council of Trent: transforming beliefs, transforming practices

Trough the analysis of some case studies observed in sixteenth-century Modena, this contribution deals with the transformations that took place in Italy after the Council of Trent with respect to the popular imaginary. The stress the Council gave to the eradication of superstitious beliefs, and everything seemed to be a deviance from orthodoxy, led to the disappearance of a certain kind of popular culture concerning religion, medicine and daily life. Trials against healers, often accused of witchcraft, highlight this phenomenon, as their contents evolved trough the flowing of the XVI century. Early proceedings usually described evocative scenarios resounding to ancient pagan lore and magic medical practices, while late proceedings lacked these elements, revealing that such cultural substrate had faded away. My talk will examine inquisitorial records in order to comprehend these cultural transformations, bearing in mind the “social disciplining” promoted by the Council of Trent and executed by the Inquisition.

Manuela Bragagnolo

Physiognomy, Medicine and Religion in Late Renaissance Italy: The “Natural Physiognomy” (Fisionomia Naturale) by Giovanni Ingegneri († 1600)

This paper analyses the links between physiognomy, medicine and religion in the late sixteenth century. It focuses on “Natural Physiognomy” (Fisionomia Naturale) by Giovanni Ingegneri, who was a jurist educated in medicine in Padua, and also the Bishop of Capodistria from 1576 to 1600. Ingegneri’s Fisionomia links clearly the study of the soul to the study of the body. Trying to legitimize an art considered suspect by the Catholic Church, due to its connections to astrology, the bishop moves it to medicine, giving a detailed explication, grounded on tempers and humours theory as well as on anatomy, of each physical thing related to inner moral and intellectual inclinations. In my paper I will look at the interest in physiognomy within the ecclesiastical hierarchy, as an instrument to reach the human soul. I will also consider the religious implications of connecting moral and intellectual inclinations to tempers and anatomical structures.

Cristiano Rocchio

Medicine of the Body, Medicine of the Soul: a Contribution on Erasmus’ Works

My paper deals with Erasmus’ idea of medicine and religion, expressed in the works: Encomium medicinae; Epistulae Beati Rhenani; Inquisitio. In the first work, he praises medicine, acclaiming physicians’ tasks and social relevance. On the other hand, in the second, Erasmus illustrates medicine in its daily dimension, criticising the ignorance of many contemporaneous doctors, who did not match his ideal image. In this text, he describes Jesus Christ as a medical doctor able to heal both the soul and the body. In the Inquisitio, Erasmus analyses the grounds of Christian faith shared by Catholicism and Lutheranism. Targeting Italy and, in particular, Rome - the corrupted seat of the Papacy - he criticizes superstitious practices and any exterior aspects of Catholic devotion, disparaging the rising religious conflict. Finally, just like a physician, he encourages interreligious dialogue as a healthy activity, lashing out against confessional tensions perceived as a disease.


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