Augustine of Hippo, a Christian bishop living in northern Africa in the fourth and fifth centuries, is known for his voluminous writing on a wide range of topics – free will, knowledge, the ethics of sex, and more – making him one of the most influential thinkers in Christian history.
But one specific idea infusing Augustine’s philosophy, said scholar Toni Alimi, is hiding in plain sight: Slavery.
Augustine justified slavery as punishment, but surprisingly little scholarship acknowledges this, said Alimi, Klarman Fellow in philosophy and classics in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). His book project, “Slaves of God,” his focus during the three years of his Klarman fellowship, delves into the Augustine cannon, explaining the philosopher’s reasons for justifying slavery. Alimi’s next book project looks at slavery in a more expansive way, tracing it from the ancient, medieval and early modern periods through the antebellum United States.
“Toni's work on Augustine on slavery explores aspects of Augustine’s political ideas that no one else has examined – remarkable for a figure as studied as Augustine,” said Scott MacDonald, the Norma K. Regan Professor in Christians Studies. “It's deeply interesting for the light it sheds on the complexity of early Christian thinking about slavery, and extraordinarily timely in its consideration of the ethical, political, and religious dimensions of slavery and their roots in thinkers and institutions that have profoundly shaped the European and American cultures in which we find ourselves still struggling to secure the notion that Black lives matter.”