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Rereading the Book of Nature

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Organizer: Nicholas Huelster

Co-Organizer: Adam Schoene

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The “Book of Nature,” a medieval idea that nature was a world of signs which could be read to understand the workings of God, is one whose structures continue to resonate today. According to this notion, this sacred “book” of the Word made flesh, referenced in Exodus, was to complement the Bible as one of two texts revealing God. An actual Buch der Natur was written by Conrad of Megenberg in the 14th century, just as this religious idea began to give way from mystical natural theology to the roots of science via natural philosophy. Yet the Book of Nature was always more than merely a physical text: as a religious and philosophical metaphor, it is a mythical structure concerning the understanding of nature, humanity, and its place within the world.     Aristotle and the Greek philosophers considered this metaphor in their foundational natural philosophy, Montaigne addresses it within the context of human folly and skepticism in his longest essay, L’apologie de Raymond Sebond, and Galileo referred to it alongside mathematics. Yet these are but early chapters in the long history of the Book of Nature, which may be considered as a spectral presence haunting contemporary science and philosophy. Might the Book of Nature also be a structure with which artists, poets, musicians, novelists, journalists, or filmmakers similarly continue to struggle? This panel seeks to reopen the Book of Nature, either to return to its classical, medieval, and early modern origins, or to explore it anew and to write its future through concepts of reading and interpreting, human reason and perception, signs of nature, and revelation. Possible topics may include: Reading, logos, antilogos Signs, miracles, monsters Animals, ecocriticism, environmental humanities Poetics of voyance and/or disenchantment Belief/skepticism, reason/folly Correspondence or analogy Nature, myth, and allegory Mysticism and the occult Theatrum mundi Pantheism, transcendentalism, eastern thought Realism or naturalism in art, film, and literature

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