skip to content


Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


ID Gesture

ID Gesture: Gesture, Perception, Event

Course Convenors: Prof Heather Webb ( and Prof Catherine Pickstock (

Faculty of Divinity/Philosophy of Religion MPhil, shared module with MPhil in European, Latin American and Comparative Literatures and Cultures (ELAC)

Whilst the Middle Ages were influenced by Greek philosophical traditions which regarded truth and science as an abstraction from matter, time, body and contingency, at the same time 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 a theoretical indication of the universal. It also consists in Christ’s deeds and gestures (for example, the washing of feet 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 less true of earlier Christian thought which made no abrupt distinction between philosophy and theology, or between metaphysics and liturgical illumination. This MPhil module investigates the mutual interference between traditions of abstraction and embodiment 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 and philosophico-theological modes as a main focus, with associated readings. The first two seminars 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.
This module is shared with the Faculty Of Divinity and there will normally be a maximum capacity of 14 for this module.

Seminars will focus on:
Seminar One: Introduction to Gestures and Postures of Prayer in Medieval Europe (HW)
Seminar Two: Truth and Event (Augustine) (CP)
Seminar Three: Perception and Speculation (Anselm) (CP)
Seminar Four: Truth and Being (Aquinas) (CP)
Seminar Five: Gesture, Perception, and Revelation in Dante (HW)
Seminar Six: Catherine of Siena: Performing the Passion; Performing Compassion (HW)

Preliminary reading:
Giorgio Agamben, ‘Notes on Gesture’ in Means without End (University of Minnesota, 2000)
Erich Auerbach, Edward Said & Willard Trask, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, 2013)
Guillemette Bolens, The Style of Gestures: Embodiment and Cognition in Literary Narrative (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012)
The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. (Duke, 2010)
Johannes Hoff, The Analogical Turn Eerdmans 2013
H. H. L. Jorgensen, H. Laugerud and L. K. Skinnebach eds, Saturated Sensorium: Principles of Perception and Mediation in the Middle Ages (Aarhus University Press, 2014)
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought NY: Basic Books, 1999.
Catherine Pickstock and John Milbank, Truth in Aquinas London: Routledge, 2000
Embodiment: A History, Justin Smith, ed. (Oxford, 2017)
Heather Webb, Dante’s Persons: An Ethics of the Transhuman (Oxford, 2016)