Nancy Van Deusen

During the years 1949 and 1950, faculty members at the University of  California, Berkeley, got a dose of the anti-Communism hysteria now known as McCarthyism. They were asked to sign a loyalty oath designed to identity Communists Party members and sympathizers.

Among 31 faculty members fired for refusing to sign was Ernst Kantorowicz, a medievalist who was working on a book that has since become required reading for historians wishing to understand the arcane mysteries of medieval political theology.

Nancy Van Deusen, a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, will speak at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 18) in the Arizona Senior Academy’s Great Room about how Kantorowicz’s research on his yet-unpublished masterwork, The King’s Two Bodies, influenced the decision that cost him his job at Berkeley.

The book, published in 1957, explains that while the king’s natural body has physical attributes, suffers, and dies naturally, as do all humans, the king’s other body, the spiritual body, transcends the earthly and serves as a symbol of his office. The notion of the two bodies allowed for the continuity of monarchy even when the monarch died, as summed up in the formulation “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

“In the laboratory of the past Kantorowicz had tested a hypothesis that informed his attitude to, and practice of, the present—namely his confrontation with, and subsequent refusal to sign, the oath of loyalty requested by the University of California, Berkeley,” van Deusen said.

Dr. Van Deusen is the Louis and Mildred Benezet Chair in the Humanities at Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, Calif. Since earning her PhD in musicology and music theory from Indiana University, van Deusen has published on music and institutional culture in medieval Rome, the cathedral milieu of 11th- and 12th-century France, and music in the history of ideas. 

She has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant, several Fulbright Research Grants, and an American Philosophical Society Research Grant. 

Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer

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