CFP: Materialism and Metaphysics in Early Modernity

17 May 2024, Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, University of York

Metaphysics, which takes concepts as its objects, is traditionally thought of as antithetical to the worldly concerns of materialism. In truth, neither can be understood without the other. On the one hand, attending to materiality without appreciating how thoroughly matter is suffused with the conceptual leads to a kind of attention that can reify and thus dematerialise its objects of inquiry—a problem often associated with the so-called ‘new materialisms’. On the other hand, the total sublimation of matter into concepts fails on metaphysical as well as materialist grounds, not only by forgetting the necessary moment of production in any concept—as well as the relations of production in which it occurs—but also by neglecting the tension between object and concept from which metaphysics arises. 

As a result, over recent decades, scholars of literature, art, and philosophy have traced the unexpected affinities of metaphysical and material thinking across the early modern world. To build on these developments, Materialism and Metaphysics in Early Modernity sets out to explore the relationship between materialism and metaphysics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This one-day interdisciplinary conference will take place on Friday 17th May 2024. Keynote speakers include Prof Lorna Hutson (Oxford) and Prof Sarah Hutton (York). Funding will be available for postgraduate and early career researchers thanks to the British Academy.

We invite proposals for papers addressing any of the interactions or contradictions between metaphysics and materialism. We are keen to include researchers in the widest possible range of fields, including English and Modern Languages, Art History, Intellectual History, Philosophy and Theology. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Metaphysics and the material transformations of early modernity: the development of capitalism, colonization and expropriation, the slave trade etc.
  • Aristotelian, neo-Scholastic, and extra-institutional metaphysical thinking, from Francisco Suárez to Damaris Masham;
  • Literary and artistic engagements with the metaphysical, including ‘metaphysical poetry’, allegory, and the atomist lyric;
  • The appropriation and repudiation of ‘metaphysics’ in early modern natural philosophy
  • Theoretical encounters between metaphysics and materialism – in e.g. Aristotle, Marx, Adorno – and their consequences for rereading early modern culture.

To participate in the conference, please send proposals of up to 250 words, plus CVs, to Namratha Rao ( and Ted Tregear (, by Friday 16 February 2024. For more information, see our website,