Georg Toepfer: Unity or Diversity? Christian Origins of and Resistance to Valuing Diversity
Lecture in context of the Oxford-led project New Horizons for Science and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe at Bard College Berlin, 4 May 2022
The current discourse on diversity and its evaluation has not one root, but many. It ties together developments in the fields of biology and bioethics, aesthetics and economy, law and global justice. Somehow the concept ‘diversity’ has managed, in particular in the arena of politics, to bring the heterogenous problems associated with these diverse fields under one heading. An important background for this success story is the rich cultural history of ‘diversity’. It comprises ancient narratives about divine creation, paradise and Noah’s ark as well as political ideas of cultural pluralism, egalitarianism and non-hierarchical representation of individuals. In his talk, Toepfer will focus on the Christian elements in this long history. They refer, among other things, to a more respectful attitude toward animals than the Romans had in ancient times, to debates about the emergence of a “diversity” of ecclesiastical orders, each with different rules (diversitas statutorum), in Medieval times, and the “diversity images” in the physico-theological context of Early Modern times that put the logic of diversity into the visual sphere by showing an egalitarian, non-hierarchical representation of diverse living things.
Georg Toepfer is Philosopher, head of the program area Knowledge of Life and of the project Diversity: Concepts, Paradigms, and History.