Lunchtime Colloquia 2014 – 2015 | Atlantic World Research Network

Lunchtime Colloquia 2014 – 2015

Lunchtime colloquia will meet in 2015-16 on varied weekdays (see below) from 11:45 am-1:30 pm. We usually meet in MHRA 1607, the Research and Partnerships conference room on the first floor of the Moore Humanities and Research Administration Building’s research wing. Colloquia will be led by colleagues from varied disciplines, but with a shared purpose: to explore life around the Atlantic Rim in ways that will spark new approaches, provide useful responses to work-in-progress, and reflect on the shared project of transatlantic studies.

As of February 2016, the 2014-15 Colloquium schedule is as follows:

Date Topic Presenter(s)
Friday, September 4, 2014 Sources of Authority: Galileo vs. the Church Kenneth Caneva
Emeritus Professor of History
Monday, February 23, 2015 Russian Openings to the West Elvira Osipova
Professor of American Studies
St. Petersburg State
University, Russia

Although each Colloquium will be by invitation and space is limited, you’re welcome to inquire about the availability of spaces on particular dates at

“Sources of Authority: Galileo vs. the Church”—Kenneth Cavneva

September 5th, 2014

Dr. Ken Caneva, Professor Emeritus of History at UNCG, spoke on September 5 about “Sources of Authority: Galileo vs. the Church.” His presentation sought to correct misconceptions about the conduct of the Roman Catholic Church toward Galileo. He explained that the emerging field of astronomy was not yet linked intrinsically with empirical truth in the early modern mind. Astronomy was, due to the lack of modern scientific equipment, almost purely theoretical and divorced from any sort of observational reality. The hypotheses forwarded by astronomers were hypothetical positions that could not be proven or disproven, and therefore could not challenge or threaten Church interpretations of nature. This arrangement allowed “natural philosophers” of the day to conduct their research without disturbing the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic status quo espoused by the Church.

Where Galileo ran into trouble, Dr. Caneva explained, was not in his ideas, but in how he attempted to forward them. It was a case of bad timing for Galileo: the late medieval Church allowed a certain freedom of thought that provided space for theological debate. However, the Protestant Reformation, occurring the generation before Galileo’s birth, forced the Catholic Church to tighten its dogma and doctrine, which was formally adopted at the Council of Trent. Thus Galileo’s ideas, harmless posits in a previous era, were now threatening the fabric of Church belief. Galileo wished to engage in open debate about the nature of the universe. For the Church then, it became a battle over controlling public discourse regarding what was accepted as natural law. Should the Church’s teachings on the nature and shape of the cosmos be altered, virtually every other truth held by the Church would be up for reexamination and debate.

Galileo, as Dr. Caneva noted, did not help his own cause with his persistent and rather disagreeable personality. He continuously exasperated Church authorities with his very public declaration of his beliefs, behavior that earned him a visit from the Inquisition and a trial that led to his eventual house arrest. The problem was not that Galileo believed quietly in heliocentrism, but that he went about proclaiming it as truth. His Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems earned enmity from Pope Urban VIII not for its contents, but for how it characterized the established Ptolemaic system and its advocates. The debater defending the traditional view of the cosmos was presented as stupid, breaking the agreement to present both sides even-handedly. To make matters worse for Galileo, he used the pope’s own words in a mocking manner further to discredit the traditional view. This polemical turn proved to be the final straw for the Church, which confined Galileo to house arrest.

Colloquium attendees discussed the modern implications of Galieo’s situation. They debated whether the script had been somewhat flipped, with the scientific community now controlling of public debate over matters concerning science, as with global warming, while ridiculing, stigmatizing, and shutting out alternative views. The idea of these controls themselves was also discussed as a necessary feature of institutions. Is it possible to allow someone not affiliated with the university to use classroom space and resources, moving into a space and teaching a class, regardless of the merit of this instruction? Of course not, all agreed–but what about emergent and even better ideas shut out of doors by political and ideological conformity?