Schemel Forum Courses Make Three Historical Topics Come Alive

Jan 28, 2015

Through the Schemel Forum at The University of Scranton during the spring semester, local residents can examine the mystery of Leonardo da Vinci, precious Medieval books, and the impact of race and religion on women in Latin America. University of Scranton professors will teach these evening courses in six sessions, all on campus.

“Not Demons, But Genies: Leonardo and His World” will be taught by Josephine Dunn, Ph.D., professor of art history at the University. Many believe that Leonardo (from Vinci) remains an enigmatic artist, in spite of his copious output in drawings, the many annotated notebooks he compiled during his life, and the research of generations of scholars analyzing the artist’s output.

“Read only a few authors writing about Leonardo da Vinci and you will inevitably run into a word used repeatedly to describe him: ‘enigmatic,’” said Dr. Dunn. “Is Leonardo really the enigma so many wish him to be? Certainly, there is a sufficient lack of information about the artist to fuel novelist Dan Brown’s fancies and drive the mythical TV series, ‘Da Vinci’s Demons.’ But, what information do we really have on this rather private man who, despite his extraordinary talent, completed very few paintings during his lifetime? What was Leonardo doing with his life, and why? Are not muses at work?”

The course will explore the “enigma” through study of Leonardo’s life, thought and oeuvre in the context of 15th- and 16th-century Renaissance Italy. The course will run from 6 to 7:15 p.m. on the following Thursdays: Feb. 19 and 26; and March 5, 12, 19 and 26.

Michael Knies, special collections librarian and associate professor at the University, will conduct a class titled “The Book of Kells and its World 600-900 CE.”

“The fall of Rome caused political and economic disruptions throughout Europe, but the Dark Ages were not as dark as popularly thought, and one area that shone brightly was the insular world that we call the British Isles,” said Professor Knies. “Some of the greatest medieval manuscripts were created during this period.”

This course will examine the Lindisfame Gospels (ca 720) and the Book of Kells (ca 800), other books, and the culture that produced them. We will also cover the Christianization of the insular world including the role of St. Patrick, the survival of literacy, trade and cross-cultural influences, and their impact on the culture that produced these landmark books.

“The University of Scranton is privileged to own fine art facsimiles of the Lindisfame Gospels and the Book of Kells, important pieces that represent the finest work of book art from the Medieval period,” said Professor Knies. Both will be on display during the illustrated lectures that highlight this course, which will meet from 6 to 7:15 p.m. on the following Tuesdays: March 17, 24 and 31; and April 7, 14, and 21.

In the course “Women, Race and Religion in Latin America,” Lee Penyak, Ph.D., professor of history at the University, will examine women’s religious experiences in Latin America from the colonial period to the present, with special emphasis on race. The role of women in Iberia had been codified in law when the Spaniards conquered the New World. A husband was master in his household and controlled “all those who live under him.” In general, male colonial Spaniards believed that women lacked intelligence and judgment, were emotional and gossipy, and needed supervision.

“Not surprisingly, marginalized people, especially women in colonial Latin America, were mostly illiterate, and acquiring information about them proved difficult until scholars in the 1980s started to use Inquisition and criminal documents as sources,” said Dr. Penyak. “Scribes recorded these people’s testimonies in court cases and, as a result, we now have a better idea as to the beliefs and cultural assumptions of less powerful members of society.”

Major units of the course include Spanish Catholicism on the eve of the Conquest, conventional life, women’s experiences in African-based religions, women in Christian-based communities (liberation theology), and the impact of Pentecostalism and Charismatic Catholicism on women’s lives. The course will meet from 6 to 7:15 p.m. on the following Wednesdays: April 15, 22 and 29; and May 6, 13 and 20.

Registration is required for the courses, all of which will meet in in room 305 of the Weinberg Memorial Library. Local residents can attend any course for $60 per person or $100 per couple. Schemel Forum members attend free. Space is limited and registrations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, contact Emily Brees, Schemel Forum assistant, at 570-941-6206 or

For more information on Schemel Forum programs and memberships, contact Sondra Myers at 570-941-4089 or

The Schemel Forum is a program of participatory learning experiences aimed at cultivating the intellect and the imagination through study and discussion of classical texts and current policies, from the arts, history and philosophy to technology and theology. Founded in 2006 through generous gifts to the Rev. George Schemel, S.J., Fund, created by friends of the late Father Schemel in his loving memory, and spearheaded by Harmar Brereton, M.D, the forum has grown from a handful of informal lectures to a comprehensive enrichment program of study, dialogue, performances and special events. Through the forum the University offers to the community its most valuable assets — its faculty members and the wealth of knowledge that they possess.

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