Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Thomas Burman

Committee Members

Jay Rubenstein, Maura Lafferty, Alison Vacca


This dissertation follows the career of the famed twelfth-century theologian Alan of Lille from his early days in Paris, in the 1130s, through his time in the city of Montpellier in southern France, from roughly 1170 onwards. In doing so, it not only brings into sharper focus a figure that has flitted in and out of the historical record and modern scholarly works, but also examines how wider medieval society shaped the methods of academic theologians. Much modern research has been done in evaluating the ways in which medieval scholars, those trained at the secular urban schools that would eventually become the first universities, shaped the world around them. My research expands this question to consider how Catholic laity and members of other faiths exerted their influence to shape the science of theology in the twelfth century. Relying on Alan’s major works, as well pedagogical materials from both Paris and Montpellier, I demonstrate that Alan was profoundly shaped by his time in southern France. Always known to dabble across genres and topics, he abandoned esoteric speculative theology almost entirely when he left the north. Once in the south of France, he took up his pen to revolutionize theological genres so that they might transmit scholastic knowledge to the laity through education. Further, he developed a system of knowledge diffusion that was dependant upon the aristocracy and parish priests through whose support society could be reordered and, in theory, bring members of disparate faiths into the Catholic fold. Ultimately, I argue that Alan’s work demonstrates the vitality and expansiveness of scholasticism in the twelfth century when it functioned as a dynamic and reactive cultural force.

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