I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join the College Fellows and to be teaching one of the Engaging Differences courses. As a historian of Christianity in the ancient and medieval worlds, I am profoundly interested in difference. My research and teaching explores the ways in which concepts and institutions that we often assume to be static and unchanging do, in fact, have their own histories and how understandings of them have changed, sometimes dramatically, over time. I am particularly interested in ideas about gender, sexuality, and marriage. What did early and medieval Christians think about these topics? What do we learn when we set aside our modern preconceptions about gender differences and marriage practices? What differences emerge, and what can these differences tell us about the world that we live in, today, in the present?
I will be teaching a course called “Unnatural.” Nature is one of the most fundamental concepts that we use to organize our world. We tend to value and to seek out things that are “natural,” and to disparage and avoid things that are “unnatural.” We can find this reasoning used in areas as varied as food consumption (“this product contains only natural ingredients”) and marriage practices (“monogamy is unnatural for humans”). Once we start looking for it, we can find it nearly everywhere. But what, exactly, is nature? On what basis do we evaluate whether something is natural or unnatural? Who gets to decide? And why do we consider this an important distinction to make? Together we will examine these questions as we work towards untangling how the concepts of “natural” and “unnatural” function in our society—and how they might function differently in other times and places.