Cambridge Platonism at the AAR 2017

Papers read at this year’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Boston:

Karen Felter (University of Muenster), “’The Middle Way of Truth’: The Role of Christ in Anne Conway’s Trinitarianism,” presented to the “Origen and the Roots of ‘Human Freedom’ and ‘Human Dignity’ in the West Seminar,” 20 November 2017.

The group of seventeenth century thinkers, known as the Cambridge Platonists, is theologically renowned for its ties to Origen. However, a comprehensive study of Anne Conway’s theology has never been conducted. This paper contributes to rectifying this by examining Conway’s conception of the Trinity. While Conway deploys the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of neo-platonic systematics, two basic features of her teachings are distinctly Origenian: Firstly, Conway’s process soteriology is based on Origen’s idea of apokatastasis. Conway views Christ as the necessary mediator between God and creation as every being works towards restoration. Christ participates in every being separately in what Conway refers to as “intimate presence”. The idea that Christ accommodates individually in the salvific process is distinctly Origenian. Secondly, Conway’s Trinity is characterized by the polarity of “motion” and “rest”, as is Origen’s. I argue that this is foundational for her critique of Cartesian Dualism.

Derek Michaud (University of Maine), “Reimagining Revelation, Tradition, and the Development of Doctrine,” presented to “Traditions of Interpretation” session, Christian Systematic Theology Unit, 19 November 2017.

This paper argues that rather than more or less distinct loci in systematic Christian theology, revelation and tradition should be conceived of as aspects of a single communicative act initiated by God and received by humanity and played out through time. Borrowing an image from the forward pass in American Football, and building on the arguments of the Cambridge Platonist John Smith (1618-1652), I argue for and understanding of tradition (etymology notwithstanding) not as something to “hand on” but as the history of the reception of God’s self-disclosure. The “development of doctrine” therefore is the process of receiving what God is (and has always been) sending us in a changing world. Tradition is reimagined as a source of doctrinal authority but not as a collection of content so much as a liturgical, prayerful, exegetical, and theological guide for living the Christian life here and now.


Cambridge Platonism at the ISNS

There are a number of papers on the Cambridge Platonists due to be presented at the 15th annual ISNS conference, Olomouc, Czech Republic, 14-17 June 2017, at Palacký University Olomouc.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Early Modern Platonism (Organizers: Anna Corrias, Douglas Hedley, and Valery Rees)

  • David Leech, Bristol University and Cambridge Platonist Research Group, University of Cambridge, “Cudworth on Superintellectual Instinct as a Species of Orphic – Pythagorean Love”


Ancient Theology and the Cambridge Platonists (Organizers: Douglas Hedley and Natalia Strok)

  • Natalia Strok, UBA- CONICET-UNLP, “Arianism and Platonism: traces of Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica in Cudworth’s The True Intellectual System”
  • Derek Michaud, University of Maine, “John Smith’s Plotinian Rational Theology”
  • Douglas Hedley, University of Cambridge, “Ralph Cudworth and Ancient Theology”



Full program available here.

New Online Edition of Smith’s Select Discourses

Roger Howard has made his edition of John Smith’s Select Discourses available online here. He describes the work as follows:

John Smith’s Select Discourses are the only surviving literary resmithmains of an important member of the group of Cambridge theologians now known collectively as the Cambridge Platonists. The Select Discourses were first published in 1660, with a second edition in 1673. Since then, the text has been printed in a number of increasingly unsatisfactory editions, in which intrusive editors have progressively moved further away from the original. Here, I present what I believe to be an accurate text, with the annotations needed for a modern reader. A few gaps remain to be filled in providing translations of some rabbinical quotations, which I may try to remedy at some point. A description of  the contents of John Smith’s Commonplace Book is also to be added.

We are all in debt to Howard for this fine contribution to Cambridge Platonist scholarship!