The Project, short titled INNOVATION, anticipates a breakthrough in scholarly understanding of the medieval origins of modern Western philosophy. This breakthrough will be achieved by exposing the pioneering nature of early thirteenth-century Franciscan thought and by demonstrating its pivotal significance for the subsequent formation of the Western philosophical identity. The early Franciscan tradition of thought emerged between the 1220s and 50s in the religious order founded by Francis of Assisi, one of the most charismatic and celebrated religious figures of all time; it soon became the most prominent and influential school of the period.
However, the work of early Franciscan thinkers has largely been neglected by scholars, who have long assumed that they mainly codified the work of past authorities, where their later medieval Franciscan successors developed innovative new ideas that laid the foundation for the development of modern philosophy, which in turn influenced other aspects of modern thought and culture. INNOVATION will contest this assumption by producing the first comprehensive and systematic study of early Franciscan thought, including its sources, method, content, and later medieval reception. In this regard, the project will focus primarily and even exclusively on the so-called Summa Halensis, which was collaboratively authored by the founders of the Franciscan school at Paris, in the effort to lay down a Franciscan intellectual tradition for the first time.
In conducting this study, the research team will implement a groundbreaking method of reading scholastic texts, which is attentive to the way that practice informed theory in the Middle Ages, at least through the 13th century. This ‘practice-led’ hermeneutic will not only provide a basis for re-interpreting the entire scholastic period but will also allow us to identify novelty, often due to the appropriation of Islamic sources, where past scholars have only perceived unoriginality in the work of early Franciscans.
By identifying key early Franciscan innovations, the project will further point up connections with the later medieval Franciscan school of thought, where past scholars have normally perceived a break between them. In this way, it will illustrate how Western philosophy has been nourished by the ethos of a particular religious order, and by Islamic thought, pointing up a shared Muslim-Western philosophical identity that is often overlooked but urgently needed to overcome severe fractures in today’s society.
At the same time, however, INNOVATION will show how later thinkers detached early Franciscan ideas from the practice-led context in which they were originally formulated, thus confirming that these ideas only acquired the potential to become modern once removed from that context. In juxtaposing the cultural paradigms of philosophy and the practice of religion, consequently, INNOVATION will push the frontiers of knowledge by producing the first sustained and sufficiently nuanced scholarly account of the Franciscan origins of modern thought.