Home > People > Faculty > Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving

Assistant Professor of Religion


Departmental Area: Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy
Research Areas : Science and religion; the British Empire

Address: Department of Religion
641 University Way / P.O. Box 3061520
The Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1520
Office: 107A Dodd Hall
Email: sirving@fsu.edu
Office Hours: TBA


Sarah Irving (Ph.D., History, Cambridge University 2007) teaches the history of science and religion in the modern West, specializing in intellectual history. She focuses on the transnational histories of religion, political thought and modern science in the Atlantic World and in the British colonization of the Americas and Australasia. Her first book, Natural Science and the Origins of the British Empire (Pickering and Chatto: 2008), investigates the way that England’s colonial empire became tied to the redemptive project of restoring man’s original dominion over nature. The book won The Royal Society of Literature and Jerwood Foundation Prize for Non-fiction.

Dr. Irving is currently researching three book projects. The first, entitled "Science, Religion and the Atlantic Origins of the Republic of Letters" investigates the relationship between scientific objectivity, and that of a secular public sphere; two defining and cherished features of modern liberal democracies that emerged in the 18th century Atlantic world. The second project, “How Science Became Useful: European Protestantism and the Origins of Modern Science” is an intellectual history of science’s social utility. The third project, entitled "The Bible, Indigenous People and the British Empire” is an intellectual and global history of British colonization, exploring the relationship between Biblical traditions and natural law in justifying British claims to colonial property. Before joining FSU, Dr. Irving was a Junior Research Fellow in History at Oxford University, where she was a member of Wolfson College.

Research and Teaching Interests 

* European and Atlantic history
* Imperial and Colonial history
* Intellectual history
* The history of religion and science

Selected Publications 


Articles and book chapters

  • “The History of Atlantic Science: Collective Reflections from the 2009 Harvard Seminar on Atlantic History” in Atlantic Studies 7 (4)
    2010. Jointly authored with Marcelo Arunda et.al
  • ‘An Empire Restored: America and the Royal Society of London, 1660-1700’ in America in the British Imagination, ed. Catherine Armstrong, (Cambridge Scholars Press: Cambridge: 2007).
  • ‘In a Pure Soil: Anxieties of Empire in the Work of Francis Bacon’, History of European Ideas, 33 (3) Spring 2006, pp. 249-62.
  • ‘Margaret Cavendish’ in Mary Spongberg, Ann Curthoys and Barbara Caine, Companion to Women’s Historical Writing, (Palgrave Macmillan, London: 2005).
  • ‘Women’s Utopian Literature’ in Mary Spongberg, Ann Curthoys and Barbara Caine, Companion to Women’s Historical Writing, (Palgrave Macmillan, London: 2005).

Recent Courses

Fall 2011

REL3936 Christianity and Politics in Europe and the Atlantic World Dr. Irving
This course introduces students to the role of religion in Western political thought, focusing on the history of Europe and the Atlantic World. Beginning with the Protestant Reformation and concluding with the mid 20th century, we explore the work of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Locke, early American Puritans, Thomas Jefferson, William Wilberforce, the Victorian Christian Socialists, Walter Rauschenbusch, the Barmen Declaration of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Chief among the course’s themes is the emergence of the modern nation-state and the set of questions this posed. What is the proper relationship between Christianity and secular authority? What are the rights and duties of individual citizens toward the state? Should individuals be permitted religious freedom? Throughout the course students will place these thinkers in their historical contexts and the debates in which they were participating. Many of the issues we discuss resonate in the world today, and students will be encouraged to think broadly about the contemporary implications of the relationship between religion, politics and civil society. No previous knowledge of European history or philosophy is assumed.
Sec. 2 (Ref# 07618) T R 12:30pm-1:45pm HCB 0217

REL4190/5195 Man and Nature in Western Thought Dr. Irving
The idea of a global environmental crisis is one of the most salient and debated issues in public discourse. To what extent are Western attitudes toward nature responsible for this situation? The idea that humanity should have dominion over the natural world derives from the book of Genesis, and is central to Judeo-Christian thought. In addition, the emergence of modern science was founded upon the idea that nature be rendered useful to mankind; it was not sacred. This course is an intellectual history of man’s relationship to nature, stretching historically from the Greeks, through the Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and concluding with late 20th century reflections upon environmentalism. Our readings encompass philosophy, theology, history, the philosophy of science, and poetry.
Sec. 2/3 (Ref# 07711/07712) M 2:00pm-4:45pm DIF 0310