Robert of Avesbury
Although flagellation (beating oneself with a whip) had been practiced as a means of spiritual discipline by monks long before, it did not emerge as a public group activity until the thirteenth century. While Europe was besieged by the Black Death (1348–1352), the Brotherhood of Flagellants (which also included women) resorted to ever more spectacular public flagellation. The movement probably originated in eastern Europe and took root most deeply in German-speaking areas, as the account below demonstrates. As we see from the subsequent report of Robert of Avesbury, however, they had also crossed into England, offering some sort of solution to the plague crisis.
“52. The Flagellants,” from the Chronicon Henrici de Hervordia and from the Concerning the Miraculous Deeds of King Edward III by Robert of Avesbury, in Rosemary Horrox, The Black Death (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994), 150–154.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, propounded the theory of evolution in his famous work On the Origin of Species (1859). With this theory, Darwin launched a massive debate concerning the spiritual repercussions of belief in natural selection—such as the contradiction inherent in the evolution of humans from apes and the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. This second work, The Descent of Man, explores the physiological connections between mankind and what Darwin calls “lower animals.” This selection examines the notion of sociability and how it plays out in various associations of animals; Darwin even makes a case for “lower animals” (like dogs) having characteristics that would be called “moral” in humans. Consider the impact of such “scientific discoveries” on a society that views humans as an elevated creation modeled on God.
From Philip Appleman, Ed., Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, Second ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980, pp. 196–203, 208.
The name of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is inextricably linked to the earth-shattering and (even today) controversial theory he proposed in 1859. However, it is also important to remember that he was a writer of exceptional skill and a best-selling author—even though many of his observations and conclusions were certainly too difficult for nonspecialists to appreciate. The 200th anniversary of his birth—and the 150th anniversary of the appearance of The Origin of Species—in 2009 resulted in a series of commemorative events around the world, a brief sample of which can be viewed online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/2009.html. Among the most famous elements of the book is the tangled-riverbank image introduced in the long book’s final paragraph, and Darwin’s stimulating view of the “grandeur in this view of life.”
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: Modern Library, 1936), 353, 372, 373–374.
This qibla map (qibla roughly translates as “sacred direction” in Arabic) is centered on the holiest place in Islam—the Ka’ba in Mecca. The obligation to pray in the direction of Mecca is central to Islamic belief. The fundamental importance of sacred direction in Islam gave rise special charts and maps, such as this “qibla map” in which the world is divided into sections, with the Ka’ba in the center of the world.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Simone de Beauvoir
Encouraged by the successful strategy and tactics of the civil rights and antiwar movements, a new assertiveness also marked the drive for women’s rights after the conclusion of the Second World War. A leading voice in the movement for women’s freedoms was that of a leading French philosopher and intellectual, Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986). Her lengthy, detailed, and compelling study of The Second Sex, published in 1949, challenged women to take action on their own behalf in order to gain full equality with their male counterparts. Her analysis traced the origins of sexism and a sense of women’s inferiority to the unique circumstances of girlhood and to society’s instilling of “feminine” characteristics within young women. Only by breaking the barriers of societal expectations for “well-bred young girls,” she argued, could women achieve the goal of true and complete equality with men.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, translated and edited by H. M. Parshley, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953, pp. 334–336.