Scholarly approaches to Dante's philosophy and theology (1921-2021): Kenelm Foster and a Cantabrigian perspective

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In this chapter, I examine anglophone scholarly approaches to Dante’s philosophy and theology over the past hundred years (1921-2021) by focusing on what one might call the ‘Cambridge School of Dante Studies’, with especial reference to the context, scholarship, and influence of Kenelm Foster, O.P. (1910–1986). As a lecturer (and subsequently reader) in Italian Studies for thirty years (1948–78) who remained in Cambridge until his death in 1986, and as a mentor for a further generation of scholars formed in Cambridge, Foster exerted a huge influence on British Italian Studies, and Dante scholarship in particular, in the second half of the twentieth century. Foster situated his own understanding of Dante’s philosophy and theology in opposition to an earlier generation of Dominican Thomists, most notably Joachim Berthier, O.P. (1848–1924), Pierre Mandonnet, O.P. (1858–1936), and Mariano Cordovani, O.P. (1883–1950), and as following the ‘pioneering labours’ of the lay historians Bruno Nardi (1884–1968) and Étienne Gilson (1884–1978). Foster became the post-war authority on Dante’s theology in both English and Italian scholarship, entrusted, for example, with the most important theological entries in the Enciclopedia dantesca (1970–78) on Christ, God, the Summa contra gentiles, Theology, Aquinas, and the Gospel. Foster helped to frame, then, some of the central questions about Dante’s philosophy and theology in English-language and Italian scholarship as a whole. In this chapter, I first introduce Foster’s peculiar intellectual trajectory, and the context and defining characteristics of Cambridge Dante Studies in the twentieth century. In the main section, I analyse seven trends in Foster’s approach to Dante’s philosophy and theology in turn. In the concluding section, I put forward a revisionary proposal for a future direction in this field of study: namely, that we should reappraise some of the governing assumptions and scholarly consensuses that have crystallized in the early twenty-first century about Dante’s philosophy and theology by revisiting the (now rather neglected) early twentieth-century scholarship of the adversaries of Gilson, Nardi, and Foster.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThemes, traditions, and cultures in Dante
EditorsZygmunt G. Barański, Theodore J. Cachey, Anna Pegoretti
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherLegenda, Oxford
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


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