JAN 147 - The Copernican Revolution and the Galileo Affair
This course is a multi-disciplinary investigation into two closely related historical episodes: the triumph of Copernicus’s heliocentric system, and the famous trial and condemnation of Galileo. The “Galileo affair” is one of the most symbolic and hotly contested episodes in history, and debates about its proper interpretation continue today. This is the case not just because it is the poster child for conflict between religion and science, but also because of the challenging questions about scientific development that the Copernican revolution raises. The class will start with an intensive survey of astronomical and cosmological theories leading up to and including Copernicus. We will read extensively from Galileo’s astronomical treatises, from the documents relating to his trial, and from various writers seeking to establish what happened and what lessons the affair holds. Along the way we will reflect on the relationship between faith and reason, authority and inquiry, religion and science, and try to understand more fully the process of scientific development and intellectual revolution. The course is intensive and the reading load is significant.
Classes will vary between lecture, group work, and seminar discussions. A central project of the class will be the preparation, and carrying out, of an in-class debate, in which students articulate and defend positions on behalf of Galileo or his accusers. There will be two major written assignments: an interpretative, text-based paper and a final research paper, in which each student will analyze a contemporary argument or position responding to the Galileo affair.
Course credits: 1
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