Conjugality and Early Modern Political Thought

Sharon Achinstein, Sir William Osler Professor of English at The Johns Hopkins University, directs a fall 2017 seminar at the Folger Institute in Washington, DC.

How does thinking about conjugality—espousals, marriage, sexuality, polygamy, concubinage, reproduction, and divorce—contribute to political thought in early modernity? This seminar asks how marriage figures in its history: as a founding fiction of Adam and Eve in a state of nature, and as the modern sexual regimes of consigning the family and sexuality to the intimate sphere. Marriage was understood as a primary example of contract, not only one that prevents women from political and economic participation in the polity, but as a locus of inquiry around consent, intention, and the legal bond. There is, further, a story of modern marriage as one of secularization and privatization. The seminar will build upon and query these approaches and develop new questions for understanding how conjugality contributed to a number of developments: Natural Law theories in response to non-European sexual arrangements; the geopolitics of inter-confessional alliance, warfare, and expansion; the “family” concept (normative sexuality, procreation, gendered hierarchy, personhood); and Reformers’ preference for Roman civil law to refresh ancient concepts such as equity. Participants from history, political theory, literature, and related disciplines are welcome.

Schedule: Friday afternoons, 1:00 – 4:30 p.m., 29 September through 8 December, except 10 and 24 November.

Apply: 12 June 2017 for admission and grants-in-aid; 5 September 2017 for admission only. Visit http://www.folger.edu/application-information-and-guidelines to access the application instructions and portal.

Please contact institute@folger.edu with any questions.

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