Dr. Alexandre M. Roberts
Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies
Fellow Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung
Matter Redeemed: Ancient Physics and Alchemy in Byzantium and the Islamic World
Alexandre Roberts (PhD in History, Berkeley 2015; MA in History, Berkeley 2011; AB in Physics, Princeton 2008) is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Southern California (in Los Angeles). He has previously taught history as an assistant professor at Columbia University in the City of New York. His first book, Reason and Revelation in Byzantine Antioch (University of California Press, 2020), is on the eleventh-century Arabic-speaking, Byzantine-Christian scholar ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Faḍl of Antioch as a window onto the engagement with ancient Greek, Byzantine, and Islamicate thought that took place in and around Antioch-on-the-Orontes during the pivotal century of Byzantine rule over Northern Syria. At the Freie Universität Berlin, supported by a Humboldt Research Fellowship (2020–2021), he is working on his next project examining how scholars in the Eastern Mediterranean and Islamic world working in various traditions, from physics and alchemy to theology, understood matter and its transformation.
How did Byzantine and Middle Eastern scholars in the medieval period understand and valorize matter and its transformation? How did they draw on and adapt ancient theories about matter and its transformation? And how did their ideas about physics and alchemy shape their thinking outside of these specialized disciplines, particularly in religious discourse, and vice versa? Matter Redeemed investigates these questions by tracing the idea-complex of matter and its transformation across three domains of knowledge: physics, alchemy, and religious doctrine (especially about the universe, humanity, and the divine, as derived from interpretations of scripture, conciliar and juridical decisions, and/or rational arguments). The project places particular emphasis on texts written by or ascribed to known scholars who worked in more than one broad domain of knowledge because such cases have the greatest potential to reveal overlaps between these domains, for example alchemists who also wrote about philosophy or religious learning. For similar reasons, it also examines texts from one domain of knowledge that refer to another domain, such as Christian theological texts that refer to metallurgical transformations to bolster their case, or Islamic legal responsa on the philosophical impossibility and illegality of transmutation. This project will contribute to western Eurasian intellectual history and to a deeper understanding of the interrelation of theoretical science, experiment, and religious thought in centuries past.
- Byzantium and the Islamic world
- cultural and intellectual history
- history of science and religion
- textual traditions and the classical heritage