This short course will focus on the ‘Galileo Affair’ which remains one of the most fascinating episodes in the history of science.

The ‘Galileo Affair’, as it has come to be known, remains one of the most fascinating episodes in the history of science. It is often taken as an illustration of the repressive attitude of the Catholic Church to the rise of modern science in the 17th century, and an example of the fundamental conflict between science and religion. Yet, it has been subject to distortion and myth, and continues to spark intense disagreement among historians, scientists and philosophers.

In 1632 Galileo published his Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, in which he defended the Copernican view that the earth moves around the sun. He was duly summoned to appear before the Holy Roman Inquisition to answer the charge of vehement suspicion of heresy. Forced to recant, he was sentenced to serve the remaining 9 years of his life under house arrest. The fall out was enormous, and forever changed the way we view the relationship between science and religion. But what was the Galileo Affair really about? Was it simply the suppression of scientific truth by an oppressive religious authority? Or was it a more complex episode, in which doubts about scientific evidence could not be separated from the interpretation of Scripture, the political context of the Counter-Reformation, the turmoil of the thirty years war, and even Italian court culture?

In this short course, we focus on these questions, in an attempt to shed light on this fascinating episode. Each session takes a different historical perspective, as we delve beyond the myth, in search of a deeper understanding of one of the defining episodes of Western history.

Program Overview

Thursday 24 May: Introducing the scientific controversy: Does the Earth move?

We begin the course with an introduction to the scientific controversy at the heart of the Galileo affair. What were the arguments and evidence in favour of the traditional view that the sun revolved around the earth, and how did Galileo make his case for the controversial view that the earth that revolved around the sun?

Thursday 31 May: Galileo and the Catholic Church: The interpretation of scripture

This week, we turn our gaze to the problem of the interpretation of scripture in the context of the Counter-Reformation. What was the Catholic Church’s official position on Copernicanism, and how did Galileo propose to reconcile the Copernican view with passages in the Bible that suggested the sun was immobile?

Thursday 7 June: Science, culture and politics: Renaissance Italy and the Thirty Years War

This week, we widen our perspective to encompass the wider social, political and cultural context of the Galileo affair. In doing so, we gain a deeper understanding of how the affair was shaped by Galileo’s cultural identity as a courtier for Grand Duke of Tuscany and the political turmoil of the thirty years war.

Thursday 14 June: The uses and abuses of history: What have we learned from the Galileo Affair?

In the final session, we examine how various historical accounts of the Galileo affair have been used throughout by history in the service of various agendas. Here we reflect on what this complex and fascinating episode might tell us about the conflict between science and religion.

Download the flyer


Kristian Camilleri is a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies.

Missed this series?

Subscribe to the Faculty of Arts Community Education mailing list to be among the first to hear about our future programs: