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Ordered Human Projects

Principal Investigators: Dr Steve Puttick (Assoc. Prof of Education, Oxford University)  & Dr Jack Cunningham (Reader in ecclesiastical History, Bishop Grosseteste University)

Jack Cunningham
Steve Puttick


Steve is exploring the educational philosophy of Grosseteste through his letters and translation and commentary of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. At the societal level, he subverts assumptions about a pre-defined hierarchy of potential and social class by arguing that education has the potential to transform all.  Individually, education works to re-order previously dis-ordered habits and beliefs, generating a virtuous circle in which flourishing virtues lead to greater knowledge, which leads to further virtue growth, and so on. Grosseteste’s philosophy of education is particularly timely because of current debate about selective education and continuing strong associations between material and educational inequalities.

Jack is exploring the contemporary educational setting of Grosseteste’s work on pedagogy and epistemology. In particular he is keen to set Grosseteste’s positive anthropology as well as his optimistic assessment of the potential of education against the backdrop of 12th and 13th century Europe. A number of important factors such as the arrival of Aristotle’s natural science, the arrival also of key Arab texts, the birth of the new universities and the crusades against the dualism of the Cathars can be regarded as contributing to a wave of positivity in the Latin West which impacted enormously on thinkers such as Grosseteste. Indeed, his eventual conviction that the ultimate goal of humanity is deification and union with the Godhead might be regarded as an intensified version of a more general humanism that was sweeping Europe. That the Bishop of Lincoln saw education as integral to this process mark him out as one of the  most ardent champions of the learning process in the history of western Europe.


Project Mentor – Prof Giles Gasper (Prof Dept. of History, Durham University. Principal Investigator of the Ordered Human Project)

Dr Giles Gasper






Prof Brian Tanner (Emeritus prof. of Physics Durham University) & Rob Tanner (Director of Cross-Curricular Learning, St Alban’s School)

Brian and Rob are interested in Grosseteste’s approach to experiment/experience and enquiry and in particular his enthusiasm for falsification. (e..g regarding rainbows, comets, meterology, horizons). This  contrasts rather sharply with current use of practical experiments in physics in schools.

That is, experimental physics is taught to develop skills, not even to demonstrate physical principles. If you look at the AQA site, you find that the primary use is to reinforce and verify concepts taught in the rest of the syllabus. Only in one example examination question were we able to find: “Before starting the investigation the student wrote the following prediction: The extension of the spring will be directly proportional to the weight hanging from the spring.” The question then concerned interpreting the data produced by this fictional student. Though the candidate was asked to interpret what might be happening when the data went non-linear, there was no suggestion that this might invalidate the hypothesis. (Individual teachers might approach the data thus, and this is worth exploring.) We are looking at current practice and, in particular, contrast this with the thoughts and approach of Robert Grosseteste.

Prof Brian Tanner







Dr Jenny Wynn (Bishop Grosseteste University)

Asking the right questions?

“The sun shines not on us but in us,

the river flows not past us but through us.”

John Muir from Muir & Wolfe (1938)

It has been argued that in Robert Grosseteste’s commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, he largely successfully aligns Aristotle’s account of human cognition through the senses and a theory of divine illumination (Van Dyke, C. 2009). One of my interests in educational research is in the structure and function of the human brain and how the brain learns. Essentially our brain is the tool with which we sort through the data from our senses and ‘decide’ then how we feel and how we act. I too would like to argue that sense perception and divine illumination are in harmony; it is our role as educationalists to explore both within the classroom. But I feel that we currently fall short with this in many classrooms; relying too much on our sensory perceptions and not delving in to our emotions and sensations beyond the superficial. Can we reunite body, mind, world and self by asking the right questions in the classroom?

“Through the smell of a rose, the sun on our face, the feeling in our gut, we utilise these ‘divine powers’ and help the cosmos unfold itself right in our midst, actually right through us.”

Tobin Hart from Hart, T. (2017)


Jenny Wynn







Ros Gammie (Ph D student Bishop Grosseteste University)

A Means to an End: Grosseteste’s use of Mnemonics in Ordering Knowledge.

This chapter will explore Grosseteste’s understanding of memory as a source of knowledge. How does a person’s memory affect their ability to learn; could this be improved, and did Grosseteste’s notions of memory and personal mnemonic ability conform to that of his contemporaries? Looking at Grosseteste’s mechanisms of learning, in particular the Tabula, his index tables and symbols, this chapter will explore the Bishop’s own mental processes in learning and retaining information. It will examine the relationship between memory and intelligence and how the former can be trained to improve and elevate the latter. Examining this relationship will allow for distinctions to be drawn between memorisation, rote-learning, and the pursuit of knowledge as a higher art form. What emphasis did Grosseteste place on his mnemonic training as a means to an end? Where did Grosseteste draw a distinction between the ability to ‘merely’ retain information and a higher, divine illumination, gained through the pursuit and attainment of knowledge?

That Grosseteste introduced ‘rational order’ (to quote Philipp Rosemann) indexing into his Tabula is novel in itself, in that he chose to order his thoughts (and by extension, recall of thoughts) in a different and very personalised way, rather than simply alphabetically. By looking at how he ordered the world, we may shed a little more light on how he observed it.

Ros Gammie






Prof Tom McLeish (Department of Physics and Humanities Research Centre University of York)

The assumed division of the minds of even very young people, especially within the UK’s educational culture (‘Is she on the arts side or the science side?’) is unusual both geographically and historically. Even within our universities, the disciplinary fragmentation we now experience ought to be thought of more as a two-century long experiment than as a fixed landscape of intellectual boarders.

Recent studies on creativity (e.g. Howard Gardner’s Creating Minds) and of neuroscience and culture (e.g. Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary) suggest that we have lost a holistic vision of the way human minds respond to their environment by recreating it in different, but integrated ways. A new study of comparative creativity (The Poetry and Music of Science, OUP forthcoming) indicates that an integrated (‘ordered’) human mind will operate across a continuous space of creative thinking spanned by the axes of artistic-scientific, cognitive-emotional and conscious-nonconscious. The backdrop of medieval philosophy, and especially the balance of affectus and aspectus of Anslem and Grosseteste, provides a helpful ‘distant mirror’ in which to reappraise our educational and cultural concept of ‘discipline’.

Tom McLeish


Dr Karl Aubrey

Robert Grosseteste and Jack Mezirow, and Transformative Learning. There are nearly eight centuries separating the lives of Robert Grosseteste and Jack Mezirow, yet it is argued that there are some appealing parallels to be made between Grosseteste’s notion of the term illumination, and Mezirow’s concept of transformative learning. This work accepts that unlike Grosseteste, Mezirow does not involve or even hint at a theological or a spiritual dimension to his concept. Rather it is intended to offer a secular synthesis between the European medieval philosopher and a contemporary and somewhat controversial North American adult educational thinker. Firstly, a comparison of the origins and reasoning behind each of their thinking is considered, including the influences behind such thinking. Secondly, an appraisal of their thoughts on the requirements needed for learners to reach their full potential embracing Grosseteste’s intellectus and intelligentia, and Mezirow’s ideas of learners making the most of experience, critical reflection and discourse. Finally, after exploring the thinking behind each of their ideas some examples for application are offered which endeavour to combine the medieval philosophical approaches with the more contemporary and practical thoughts of Mezirow relating to adult learning. There are similarities which it is contested are of interest despite the time difference between the two. Ultimately it is hoped that this piece will highlight the relevance of Grosseteste’s work in current adult and higher education thinking and, in some small way, rekindle interest in transformative learning.

Karl Aubrey







Dr Roger Wood (Oxford Brookes)

Developing children’s positive learning experiences through confidence-informed experimentation: lessons learned from and building upon Robert Grosseteste.

At the heart of children’s learning, both through their formal education and their social lives, is the impact of their perceived confidence and motivation to engage, participate and learn. Confidence and motivation are simultaneous influencers and outcomes of children’s contextual experiences, drawn together through their interwoven understanding and interpretations of their social contexts. These vital, dynamic informants can make the difference between children’s perceptions of their own and others’ competence, capabilities, motivations and behaviours. These, in turn, influence children’s decisions to engage or avoid specific social contexts, learning activities or other individuals. An understanding of the key perceptions and interpretations that influence children’s prosocial approaches to learning is vital if adults are to have an equally prosocial influence upon the confidence and motivation of children.

Central to children’s perceived confidence and motivation during learning activities are children’s individual experiences as informed by the perceived results of their experimental interactions with other human individuals within their immersive contexts. ‘Experience’ and ‘experiment’, as defined and discussed by Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253), have been utilized as a means of developing a philosophical theory which centralizes children’s confidence and social motivation as an imperative for optimum functioning (Wood, 2017, 2018). Interestingly, children’s interpretive experimentation, through inquiry and play, emerge as means of finding out what appears to ‘work’ or ‘not work’, and, more importantly, what ‘matters’ and ‘does not matter’ within social learning contexts. The theory of Hermeneutic Pragmatism (Wood, 2018) is used to unravel Grosseteste’s ideas define the essential essence of children’s confidence-informed social motivation within formal and informal learning environments.

It is concluded that, without an additional theoretical framework such as hermeneutic pragmatism, we can only draw limited inferences from the writings of Grosseteste. However, suggestions are given for further research relating to children’s engagement with learning through the positive enhancement of their confidence-informed social motivation (Wood, 2017, 2018).

Roger Wood







Dr Adam Hounslow-Eyre (Bishop Grosseteste University)

Robert Grosseteste and the Anima Mundi: scientific disenchantment and re-enchantment of Nature and its metaphors

James McEvoy charts a development in Grosseteste’s thinking from the notion of a single Anima Mundi (De Sphera) to a plurality of celestial souls (De motu corporali and De motu supercaelesti) to an eventual rejection of (or silence on) its possibility (De operationibus solis). This progress from twelfth century Platonism to thirteenth century cosmology is explored through a critical history of thought influenced by the work of Bhaskar, Collinwood and Stark.

Through this history of thought the rise of natural (Newtonian) science in the modern period is characterised by the changing ontological metaphors for Nature that Collingwood and Stark identify as a move from ‘Nature as an organism’ to ‘Nature as a mechanism’. It is argued that contemporary developments in (Einsteinian) natural science can be characterised as a re-enchantment of Nature, described here as ‘Nature as a system’.

A comparison between contemporary ‘systems thinking’ and Grosseteste’s Anima Mundi as a plurality of souls will be advanced; considering whether an overturning of the Newtonian mechanistic metaphor of nature should be wrought in favour of an Einsteinian systemic metaphor. A possible ‘heretical’ interpretation of Grosseteste’s thinking on the Anima Mundi will be utilised to argue for the adoption of a plural and systemic conception of ‘Nature as a complex adaptive system’.

Adam Hounslow-Eyre








 Dr Gioacchino Curiello (AHRC Post Doctoral Fellow, Bishop Grosseteste University)

Deification as the goal of human order according to Robert Grosseteste.

The purpose of this chapter is to show the ultimate meaning of human order according to Robert Grosseteste. His conception of man becomes complete only after his encounter with the work of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. From 1238 until 1243, Grosseteste translated and commented on the Corpus Dionysiacum, the works of the Christian Neoplatonist who wrote in the early sixth century CE. The impact of these treatises on Grosseteste’s thought was impressive, although very few studies are dedicated to it (J. Ginther, Master of the sacred page. A study of the theology of Robert Grosseteste, ca. 1229/1230-1235, 2004).

Reading Dionysius, the bishop of Lincoln approaches the notions of deification (“the attaining of likeness to God and union with him so far as possible”) and hierarchy (often translated as sacer ordo, sacred order). The former is a topic usually neglected by western theology (N. Russell, The doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition, 2014); the latter was generally used to describe the angelical and the ecclesiastical order. In the first part of my study, I will show how Grosseteste was able to combine those two notions and to set deification as the goal of the ordered human. Deification is a complex process that touches the whole human person: being, will and intellect. In the second part, I will discuss if Grosseteste intends deification as a restoration of humanity to the state of being before the Fall or as reaching a better condition than Adam experienced.

Charles Roe (Ph D student Leeds University)

Ordering Humans through Verse: Grosseteste’s Chasteu d’amur

Grosseteste’s project to spiritually order humanity had many facets, from scholarship and preaching to episcopal legislation. One of Grosseteste’s more unusual educational manoeuvres was his composition of didactic verse in Anglo-Norman French. Verse in the insular dialect of French was relatively common in thirteenth-century England, and often had an instructive purpose; Grosseteste’s Chasteu d’amur, however, departed from the genres of Anglo-Norman spiritual teaching common prior to its creation in the 1230s – the saint’s life, the bible paraphrase, and the verse sermon. It summarises the entire course of sacred history, from Creation to the Day of Judgement, as a series of conceptual problems explored through allegory and imagination; in his vital unpublished DPhil thesis, Daniel Reeve identifies the Athanasian Creed at the heart of its complex structure.

This chapter will argue that the Chasteu relies on an assortment of existing genres of writing, and conjoins their material around the Creed’s form to produce a work with unprecedented educational breadth. This compilatory approach naturally produces conceptual gaps, similar to those identified by Wolfgang Iser in his classic ‘The Reading Process: a Phenomenological Approach’, and these are bridged by the ordering principle of Grosseteste’s voice, as he functions as a spiritual guide through the poem. This device’s success is evident from its reproduction in the Mariage des neuf filles du diable, with an attribution to Grosseteste which remains disputed, and its spurious application to later instructional poems like the Manuel des péchés and Prick of Conscience.


Dr Sacha Mason (Bishop Grosseteste University) & Dr Abigail Dorr (Lincoln University) 

Robert Grosseteste; a proto-constructivist?

Robert Grosseteste’s impact and influence on scholarly thought is widely known and his work covers an impressive array of topics. However, relatively little is known about his ideas on teaching.  Our project seeks to understand how Grosseteste sought to elicit learning and investigates his comments on the Posterior Analytics, extracts from The Epistles, and notes found in his Dicta to explore these. We attempt to understand Grosseteste’s philosophy on learning and how he encouraged other masters to educate their students. Our working hypothesis is that Grosseteste believed the role of the teacher was similar to that of an architect.  Masters built expertise and knowledge within their students and provided them with the founding stones necessary to support their own learning.  His thoughts on how students learn suggest that he advocated active learning and encouraged teachers to develop suitable environments to foster independent thought amongst students.

Many elements of this philosophy continue in modern thinking on how best to elicit learning amongst students. We find many similarities between Grosseteste’s advice on teaching and the theory of Constructivism; developed by twentieth century educationalists Piaget, Bruner, and Vygotsky.  Using modern theories of Constructivism as a framework, our project seeks to further understandings and reflections on Grosseteste’s influence on teaching and learning in twelfth century England. Can we position Grosseteste as a man ahead of his time and present his ideas as a proto-constructivist?

Sacha Mason


Aimee Quickfall, Mark Plater, John Rimmer & Eliene Howell (Bishop Grosseteste University)

Philosophy with Children and Robert Grosseteste

In an extensive research study funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (Gorard, Siddiqui and See, 2017), it was shown that introducing a session of philosophical inquiry for one hour a week in Key Stage 2 classes improved outcomes in reading, writing and mathematics for 3,000 participants. Teachers involved in the research reported that children had improved patience, listening skills and self-esteem over the year, too (Siddiqui, Gorard and See, 2017). The processes of forming a community of inquiry, discussing, questioning, reflecting and summarising had benefitted the diverse participant group in many ways, both social and academic. But when I shared this research with 200 teacher trainees, only one had heard of philosophical inquiry with children, despite many school placements and experiences.

I want to raise the profile of philosophical inquiry with children, and make Robert Grosseteste the champion of the cause at Bishop Grosseteste University.

But how does this link to the legacy of Robert Grosseteste?

Robert Grosseteste was probably from a disadvantaged background (McEvoy, 2000), his ‘social mobility’ perhaps due to his thirst for knowledge and understanding, which I think is mirrored in the aforementioned 2015 study. He founded and nurtured learning communities – in Oxford and Lincoln (McEvoy, 2000) inspiring others to be passionate about learning and to have a sense of wonder.

It has been suggested that Robert Grosseteste was a maverick (Loveless, 2012) and in philosophy with children being a maverick is encouraged, in my experience. It is a creative and evolving process. Messiness is not only allowed, but encouraged. Grosseteste was part of a paradigm shift ‘…to a world where the problems of knowledge are confronted head-on’ (Marrone, 2014, p.137) Philosophical inquiry with children encourages this confrontation, starting with something we believe, then interrogating it, or starting from our experience, and finding a shared definition or meaning from those. Often I have started sessions with young children by drawing upon the natural world, something that Grosseteste may have advocated himself, ‘being a countryman of lively mind he was observant of the natural word’ (Powicke, 1953, p.492). Beginning with the familiar, we can begin to explore the spaces between, the unfamiliar and mysterious.

Aimee Quickfell






Dr Yvonne Hill (Bishop Grosseteste University)

Defending the case for Knowledge Democracy.

Robert Grosseteste’s work on scientific methodology provided an iconic base for scientific research and validated the significance of empirical research. His use of metaphors on light and illumination are powerful in the context of experiencing education and framing the educational experiences of others.

Engaging teachers as reflective practitioners, research has taken place within the spaces offered by the professional Masters degree at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln. Here teachers are encouraged to complete their postgraduate study in a research project that includes a varieties of methodological approaches including deep reflection on the empirical experiences embedded in their practice as teachers.

The potential for Grosseteste’ metaphors of light and luminosity to be drawn into the social and political discussion on education are tantalizing. The case for Knowledge democracy for practitioner’s research is presented and illustrates how teachers across all sectors, are both learners and facilitators for their students’ learning. The emphasis of this paper has been to capture the ways in which teachers’ reflective empiricism makes meaning in hostile political environments, where state sponsored educational research both informs and deforms the parameters of scientific methodologies.

Drawing on the debates within feminist epistemology and critique, the paper examines luminosity through the intersections between the empiricism of ethnography and action research. Examples of practitioner research set within hostile environments and austere conditions show how cuts in the social and educational welfare provision are seen as an inevitable consequence of neo liberal imperatives with inevitable impact on knowledge democracy and what is framed as the legitimate focus for empirical research.

Key question are:

How might light and luminosity be used as metaphors in a wider social, political and emancipatory context of educational enquiry?

In what ways do the metaphors of light and luminosity encourage more collaborative and participatory forms of knowledge democracy where policy makers have usurped philosophies of education and intimidated professional practitioners?


Yvonne Hill







Dr Nick Gee, Ami Montgomery, Elaine Howell and Dr Smaragda Kampouri (Bishop Grosseteste University)

This group are setting out to explore how  social constructivism, as displayed in contemporary educational settings in England, compare to the Grossetestian view of the development of human cognition and knowledge ?

Grosseteste, in his Commentary of the Aristotelian Posterior Analytics, is trying to identify the origins of human knowledge. In his attempt to explain human cognition he takes the Aristotelian epistemology, according to which knowledge derives from sense perception, and marries it to Augustine’s theory of divine illumination. For Grosseteste, humans acquire knowledge by employing methods of abstraction from sense perception, while God plays a significant role in “illuminating” the objects so that they can be comprehensible to them (van Dyke, 2009: 686). Further to this idea, human cognition is less perfect because it is not divinely illuminated, due to its inherently sinful nature, and is formed “by accident” as a result of the human’s observation of the world. Scholars like McEvoy (1982) and van Dyke (2009) refer that Grosseteste describes this cognition as “inferior cognition” and the knowledge that the humans acquire as the “formal causes”. The cognition and knowledge are separate from the “first light” which is the primary cognition, the Divine Truth and the First Light possessed only by God. It is the role of  true teacher, according to Grosseteste’s  illumination theory to “internally [illumine the mind and reveal the truth]” (Grosseteste cited in van Dyke, 2009: 691).  This ideal, exemplary and divine image of the teacher, cannot be matched by a human being, but the human teacher has an instrumental role of disseminating knowledge.

Our quest in this chapter is to redefine the Grossetestian human, the notion of everyday and first cognition, and to compare and contrast Grosseteste’s account of acquiring knowledge and cognition to the theory of social constructivism, according to which knowledge and cognition are acquired neither by accident nor by illumination. In a social constructivist classroom the teacher is no longer the source of light, or in other words the expert who “pours knowledge into passive students”, but a co-explorer of knowledge and truth. In the same context, the students not only acquire knowledge based on observation, but their preconceived ideas and experiences dynamically interact with new knowledge; they test and practice it before it becomes acquired knowledge. The main activity in a constructivist classroom is solving problems. Following a more Socratic-based method of inquiry, students ask questions, investigate a topic, and use a variety of resources to find solutions and answers. These answers are then revisited and further explored. In other words, the acquisition of knowledge is viewed more as a collective process (aka collaborative learning) in which the educational environment, the teaching materials, teacher, and students all interact with each other (wholistic learning).

Accordingly, our chapter is structured as follows; in the first part we will give a definition of “social constructivism” as a sociological and epistemological term and explore its interpretation and applications in education. A comparison will then be drawn between the theory of how “knowledge” is acquired according to Grosseteste and according to social constructivists.

In the subsequent sections we will explore how social constructivism is demonstrated in modern English education environments and how it differs from more traditional teaching approaches: the role of the teacher, the context, the student, and the educational environment will be considered with a view to “re-defining” the source of ultimate knowledge, the role of the teacher, the student and the educational environment that surrounds them.


Ami Montgomery
Elaine Howell
Nick Gee
Smaragda Kampouri


Adam Foxon (PhD student, Bishop Grosseteste University)

Adam is interested in critically evaluating Grosseteste’s pedagogical philosophy and its impact on medieval developments in educational theory and practice. He is seeking to offer a critical analysis of Bishop Grosseteste’s work on education within its historical context, i.e. the arrival of Aristotle’s natural philosophy (along with Averroes commentaries) in Latin Europe, as well as the emergence of the new universities. He is also exploring the link between Grosseteste’s highly original/decidedly positive anthropology with his discussion of pedagogy and the purposes of education.

Adam Foxon