Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"The Algebra of Atonement"
Valerie Allen, John Jay College, CUNY
Friday, May 5th
Room 9204
CUNY Graduate Center (365 5th Ave, between 34th and 35th)

Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi’s Algebra (c.830) and St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, (c.1098) have just about nothing in common. The latter was composed some fifty years prior to the earliest translation into Latin of the former, and the two texts address very different topics: calculation of business transactions on the one hand and, on the other, Christian salvation. Yet algebra developed in part out of the need to divide estates according to Islamic law and was motivated by the need to satisfy entitlement and debt. Understood thus, it addresses concerns not dissimilar to the problem Anselm confronts of how to make satisfaction of the debt owed God. In this talk I connect the texts as two methods for achieving equivalence between incommensurables. I consider what models of equality inform both al-Khwarizmi’s algebraic and Anselm’s salvation equations, and what theological implications follow from Anselm's logical method.