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Florence, Italy

Faith, Science, and the Classical Tradition in Renaissance Florence

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Program Quick Facts

General Description

The story of the Renaissance can be told as a shift from a god-centered world to a human-centered one, a shift that began with the rediscovery of the classical humanist tradition and led eventually to the scientific revolution. It is quintessentially the story of Florence. This course presents the story by using the city itself to look at the ways people represented their relationship with God and their understanding of what it is to be human and rational. That in turn leads us to a larger question: how to understand belief itself. An historian and an anthropologist, we move back and forth between great texts and artwork of the period that represent the varieties of faith experience, and social science accounts of what we know about belief and spiritual experience more generally.

Learning objectives

  • To give students a basic overview of Renaissance humanism from a Florentine perspective
  • To give students a basic understanding of the experience of faith, using Christianity as our example
  • To introduce students to the main explanations for belief in God from a social science perspective
  • To give students the tools to think critically about the relationship among tradition, science, and faith

Students will be evaluated on the basis of two short essays, one on a text and the other on an artistic representation of a faith experience.


The seminar will take place in Florence. Classes will be held at the BOSP Center in Florence in Palazzo Capponi alle Rovinate and will consist of short lectures for background and discussion of our texts.

Living and Travel Conditions

Student accommodations for this seminar will be shared rooms in a hotel in Florence. Classes will be held at the BOSP Center in Florence in Palazzo Capponi alle Rovinate. Students should expect that summer in Florence can be very hot and humid. Dietary selections may be limited so students with severe restrictions should carefully evaluate their ability to participate comfortably. If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.


Tanya Marie Luhrmann

Tanya Marie Luhrmann is the Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department. In general, her work focuses on the way that objects without material presence come to seem real to people, and the way that ideas about the mind affect mental experience. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and received a John Guggenheim Fellowship award in 2007. When God Talks Back was named a NYT Notable Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. It also was awarded the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for the best book in religion.

Richard Saller

Richard Saller is Chair of the Classics Department and the Kleinheinz Family Professor of European Studies. His research has concentrated on Roman social and economic history, in particular patronage relations, the family and the imperial economy. He uses literary, legal and epigraphic materials to investigate issues of social hierarchy, gender distinctions and economic production with the aid of current social science theory. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005. Before coming to Stanford as Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, he was Provost of the University of Chicago.

Prerequisites and Expectations

The seminar will be open to all Stanford undergraduate students without prerequisites.

Grading Basis

Satisfactory/No Credit