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Peter Chiene Lecture: The Encyclopedism of Renaissance Humanist Jurists - Xavier Prévost

Light Shines through a medieval window


St Leonard's Hall 
18 Holyrood Park Rd, 
Edinburgh EH16 5AY


Fri 10 May 2024
Doors Open: 17:00
Event Time: 17:30 - 19:30

This event is hosted by the Centre for Legal History

About the Event 

The expression “Legal humanism of the Renaissance” refers to the movement that emerged from the full integration of law into humanist knowledge, which began at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. Starting with a critique of medieval scholasticism for the study of legal texts, this intellectual movement proposed new methods for producing legal ideas based on an encyclopedic approach. Although there were many methodological differences between the legal scholars grouped under the banner of humanism, they shared the conception of a legal science that is not closed in on itself. Thus, they applied to law the humanist idea that knowledge forms a vast body made up of elements that may be intellectually differentiated, but which remain interrelated: the understanding of one of these elements must therefore logically call upon all those related to it. Not only did these scholars master the legal sources (Roman law, canon law, customs, royal legislation, court decisions, etc.), but they constantly referred to history and geography, philosophy and theology, philology and rhetoric, literature and poetry, mathematics and architecture, agronomy and astronomy.

The encyclopedism of Renaissance humanist jurists then caused an upheaval in the understanding of law, while participating massively in the production of knowledge beyond legal ideas. Presenting such an approach can contribute to the current debate which, faced with the extreme compartmentalisation of disciplines and even a growing separation between legal branches, is calling for greater use of interdisciplinarity.

About the Speaker

Xavier Prévost is an associate of the faculties of law, associate of economics and management, paleographic archivist (graduate of the École des chartes) and a former student of the École Normale Supérieure of Cachan. Xavier Prévost is a junior member of the Institut universitaire de France (promotion 2020) and professor of legal history at the University of Bordeaux, where he directed the Montesquieu Research Institute (IRM – UR 7434) from 2016 to 2022 and chaired the legal history section from 2021 to 2023. Since December 2023, he has been first vice-president of section 03 (History of law and institutions) and vice-president of group 1 (Law and political science) of the National Council of Universities. His research concerns law and legal knowledge during the Renaissance and questions, more particularly, the emergence of legal modernity.

Image Credit: Krisztina Papp

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