This seminar course reflects on the emergence of one of the key elements of modern thinking, that is, the focus upon the historically concrete. In theology, this was linked to questions about God's providence, evil, and suffering that took on a specific profile by the end of the 16th century in Western Europe, in the face of actual events and experiences. Having looked at treatments of these elements in the early and medieval church, and on challenges from the 16th century, we concentrate on the 17th and 18th century, first looking at discussions of violence, then natural history, and finally circling around the debate over "theodicy" as Leibniz articulated it, and critiques of his scheme by Voltaire and others. The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 proved a key event crystallizing concerns. After a brief foray into Jewish Hasidism, we end with a contemporary reflection on theology's responsibility to "theodical" challenges. The readings deal with both "natural" and "human-caused" evil, and will try to root discussions in aspects of the historical context of the writers studied. Target students: Those interested in the history of Western theology, especially in its transition into modernity; those seeking to gain an understanding of the intellectual context in which many contemporary ethical concerns about suffering and evil arose; those interested in how key thinkers in the Christian and early modern philosophical tradition engaged questions of historical life.
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