skip to content

ID Gesture

ID Gesture - Gesture, Perception, Event

Course Convenor: Dr Heather Webb (Section of Italian) and Prof Catherine Pickstock (Faculty of Divinity)


Whilst the Middle Ages were influenced by certain Greek philosophical traditions which regarded truth and science as an abstraction from matter, time, body and contingency, at the same time, however, the central doctrine of Christianity, that of the Incarnation, suggested that truth has been fully manifested in one particular time, as one particular embodied person. Here, truth is as much a performative manifestation as it is a theoretical indication of the universal. It also consists in Christ's deeds and gestures (for example, on Maundy Thursday) as much as in his words. Later Christian thought tended to resolve this tension in terms of a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural levels of understanding. But this was much less true of earlier Christian thought which made no abrupt distinction between philosophy and theology, as between the physical senses and metaphysics. Hence, the Greek pagan and Biblical traditions tended to be seen as mutually interfering. Furthermore, the notion of a ritual and performative dimension to truth was not wholly alien to the former tradition. Our project would seek to investigate this mutual interference in the High to Late Middle Ages. Seminars will focus on a selection of Latin, Italian and English primary sources that range between ‘literary’, ‘devotional’, or ‘theological’ modes as a main focus, with associated readings, except for the first two sessions which introduce the main research questions under consideration in the course as a whole.


All texts are available in translation and while reading knowledge of Latin or Italian is recommended, it is not required.


Seminars will focus on:

Truth and Event



The Gestures and Postures of Prayer in Medieval Europe

The Gestures of Dante’s Comedy

Catherine of Siena: Performing the Passion; Performing Compassion


Preliminary reading:

  • Giorgio Agamben, ‘Notes on Gesture’ in Means without End (University of Minnesota, 2000)
  • Sherman, Jacob Partakers of the Divine: Contemplation and the Practice of Philosophy (Fortress Press, 2014).


Return to Modules