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DFG Research Unit

Natural (dis)order

Munich, 03/22/2013

A new Research Unit funded by the DFG will investigate the role of the concept of nature in models of political order.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has agreed to fund a new Research Unit based at LMU Munich. The new Unit will explore “The Role of Nature in Conceptualising Political Order: Ancient – Medieval – Early Modern”. The project will be coordinated by the medievalist Professor Beate Kellner and the Shakespeare expert Professor Andreas Höfele. “Our aim is to study how the notion of nature was employed as a means of legitimizing models of political order,” says Beate Kellner.

James Barry: King Lear Mourns Cordelia's Death (Ausschnitt)One familiar example from the Early Modern Period is the portrayal of monarchy as part of the natural order. However, invocations of nature need not always serve to shore up the sociopolitical order. “Nature may also represent a threat to the political order,” says Andreas Höfele. After all, natural disasters, such as earthquakes, or famines resulting from bad weather, can have devastating consequences for whole societies. “The prevailing order may also be threatened by the very nature of the king himself, if an inability to keep his passions in check puts the future of the realm at risk,” says Beate Kellner. Thus, Shakespeare’s history plays and tragedies show rulers as slaves to their passions. As Andreas Höfele points out, “King Lear’s rage in the first scene brings about not only his personal downfall, but also the fall of his kingdom.”

The new Research Unit will explore the role and diverse meanings of nature in conceptualising political order from antiquity through the Middle Ages to the early modern period. By combining the perspectives and expertise of different disciplines – history and law, theology and philosophy, art history, literary studies and the history of medicine – the group will bring an innovative approach to premodern conceptualisations of nature in their socio-political dimensions.

The Research Unit format enables interdisciplinary groups of researchers to investigate broad questions from the standpoint of their individual specialties and thus contributes to new perspectives in their fields. The new Unit at LMU will receive approximately 2 million euros in funding over the next three years.

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