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Response to Review of Intellectual Culture in Medieval Paris: Theologians and the University, c.1100–1330

I am extremely grateful to Professor Courtenay for his many generous comments about my book. He makes strong criticisms of the final chapter, however, and these must be taken very seriously given the immense scholarly contribution that he has made to our understanding of the medieval University of Paris. It might be most useful if I clarify what I do and do not argue in the final chapter in order to identify more precisely where there is disagreement.

In the final chapter I do not attempt to present an overview of the work of theologians in the university at this time. Rather I argue that the theologians were now operating in a different context: they no longer had a monopoly of higher theological learning, and views that ran counter to the ideas and values that had underpinned the authority of the 13th-century university were now being expressed outside the university in the vernacular, by women as well as men, by people whom I call ‘anti-intellectual intellectuals’. This much is entirely warranted by the evidence that I explore in the chapter, and my impression is that Professor Courtenay would grant me this much.

Furthermore, I do not argue that the university declined or became less socially, ecclesiastically and politically significant in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, and I specifically acknowledge recent scholarship demonstrating that sceptical arguments were deployed by Parisian scholars to help work out conceptions of knowledge and to bolster rather than undermine claims to know truth. I therefore happily concur with a large part of what Professor Courtenay presents as criticism. There is, however, a significant point of disagreement. I note connections between the anti-intellectual intellectuals and the university, and I conclude the book with a question about the extent to which masters of theology at Paris responded to the challenge posed by anti-intellectual intellectuals in order to sustain and reinvent their authority in a changing world. Professor Courtenay is confident in his answer to this question: ‘Mystical thought is certainly an important element in the cultural and religious life of post-1270 Europe and a fascinating topic for many modern readers, but its impact on university life, intellectually or religiously, was limited’. I, however, entertain the possibility that future research will demonstrate otherwise, especially as we rethink our own disciplinary boundaries.