God is in the Detail: Cosmic Order and the Sense of Scale


ACLS Fellowship Program


English and Comparative Literature


The aphorism “God is in the detail” is an old one and conveys an even older idea: that God’s hand can be discerned in even the smallest of things. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used it to explain his use of restraint in architecture, and Aby Warburg, to capture his distinctive sensitivities to art. Yet this familiar phrase also calls attention to the way questions of scale have long been implicated in questions about the order of the universe. From ancient arguments about the nature of providence to Hamlet’s “bad dreams” to the discovery of infinitesimal calculus, this project seeks to understand the various lives of this idea, as well as how contemporary patterns of thinking about scale bear the imprint of largely forgotten theological and philosophical controversy.