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Junior scholar receives international book prize

David Albertson accepts award for his upcoming book on theologians Nicholas of Cusa and Thierry of Chartres

by Susan Bell
Religion professor David Albertson
Assistant Professor David Albertson (Photo/courtesy of David Albertson)

David Albertson has been awarded a 2014 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise for his forthcoming monograph, Mathematical Theologies: Nicholas of Cusa and the Legacy of Thierry of Chartres (Oxford University Press, 2014).

In a ceremony on May 23, Albertson, assistant professor of religion at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, accepted his award from the chancellor of Heidelberg University in Germany.

Founded by the John Templeton Foundation, the international book prize is administered by the university’s interdisciplinary research institute in religion.

The $10,000 award is given annually to 10 junior scholars selected by an international committee from 19 countries for their first publication on the theme “God and Spirituality.” The Lautenschlaeger Foundation that currently funds the prize is one of the leading charities in Germany. Other winners came from Israel, Finland and England.

“I was particularly excited that this award came from Europe, and from a prominent and historic German university known for its leadership in religious studies, philosophy and sociology,” said Albertson, who is writing a new book on visual diagrams and geometry during the Renaissance and Reformation. “The award will help fund my travel needs for the book that I’m writing now — a sequel to the first.”

Albertson began Mathematical Theologies in 2008 with the help of a Provost’s Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences grant, which enabled him to travel to Germany to study in the archives of philosopher Nicholas of Cusa’s 500-year old library.

 His resulting award-winning monograph focuses on numbers and arithmetic in European religious thought from antiquity through the Renaissance.

The origins of modernity

“I also study contemporary philosophy, and there is a lot of discussion about the essence of modernity in the 20th century, especially in the 1920s and ’30s,” Albertson said. “Most of the definitions, whether you’re talking about politics or science, come back to the origins of the exact modern sciences. That basically means the application of mathematics to the sciences or the so-called mathematization of nature in the 17th century.”

However, many of the sources Albertson discovered — by scholastic philosophers, mystical theologians and avant-garde Renaissance Platonists — were already using in-depth mathematical ideas in their religious writings.

“My question was: What does that mean if we see the same sort of mathematization of thought, but in a religious sphere, and well before the 17th century? Wouldn’t that have to challenge some of the categories that we still use to think about religion versus science or medieval versus modern? It would overturn current thinking on the origins of modernity if we found very mathematized religious texts from, say, the 1100s.”

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