Medieval Religious Polemics Compared – Two Sessions at IMC Leeds 2016

Given their stereotypical and manipulative nature, medieval religious polemics are often considered problematical as sources. But polemics also present various avenues of investigation. Frequently, polemical texts connected the realms of written and oral as well as learned and unlearned audiences. The intrinsically comparative nature of polemics often went beyond simple ‘othering’ to enable complex (albeit negative) views of religious diversity. As there was no fixed genre called ‚polemics’ in the Middle Ages, polemical discourses could draw on all kinds of communicative strategies.

The two sessions at IMC 2016 consciously cut across inter-religious and intra-Christian polemics. Five papers juxtapose texts attacking different types of opponents – principally heretics, Franciscan friars, and Jews. They hope to explore the limits and potentials of polemical techniques and the relation of arguments and audiences.

Anyone interested in medieval religious polemics is welcome to attend, discuss, or comment below.

Session details:

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Call for Papers – IMC Leeds 2016 – “Bad religio/n. Polemics linking religions, religious orders and religious communities”

In recent research, a much-needed insistence on religious diversity as a medieval phenomenon has come to the fore, and many studies have highlighted emerging concepts and practices of tolerance, pluralism and peaceful coexistence between religions during the Middle Ages. For all its advantages, however, this approach leaves out large segments of the medieval imagination – generally, the focus lies very firmly on inter-religious relations, even though many experiences of diversity within largely Christianized or Islamicized areas would have been intra-religious, i.e. experiences of diverging observances, religious orders, ‚sects‘ or other informal conventions shaping religious communities. Secondly, the decided emphasis on forms of pluralism foregoes to make use of a large and equally important area: An intriguing avenue towards evaluating medieval concepts of religious diversity may lie in analyzing polemics, invectives and scornful comparisons between religious groups. Typically studied for the light they throw on the image or stereotype of one specific group, such polemics have seldom been seen as (albeit negative) expressions of diversity.

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Round-table on ‘New religious histories’ at IMC Leeds 2014

The International Medieval Congress at Leeds is almost upon us, and I’m looking forward to very many of its sessions – not least, of course the ‘New religious histories’ sessions, co-organized by Melanie Brunner (Leeds), Amanda Power (Sheffield) and myself – sessions 529,  629729829).

I wanted to post here about the Round-table (929) titled ‘Towards a Comparative Approach to Religious Histories – A Round Table Discussion’. (Leeds University Union – Room 5 – Kirkstall Abbey, 19.00-20.00h). We have just (rather late in the day, alas) asked the participants of the round-table to prepare brief statements on a number of questions. As these questions are probably also discussed elsewhere and we usually only have limited  time in the round-table session, I wanted to post them here in case one of the session speakers, session attendees or otherwise interested parties wanted to add something in written form here. I was hoping I could summarize any pre-event comments to this blog post during the roundtable, but it might also serve for further comments after the Leeds week. Any interested scholar is welcome to post relevant short comments.

The idea for the sessions arose after past Leeds round-tables and informal discussion. We organized the 2014 sessions and this round-table hoping that they would bring together scholars from different fields which have drifted rather (too) far apart: Participants come from the history of the mendicant and monastic orders, male and female convents, but also from research on heresy and various aspects of ecclesiastical history (especially post-Lateran IV) and theology. While the concept binding them together – religion – might be one item for our common agenda, we hope to use the round-table to discuss further current problems, trends and future plans. Ideally, we would encourage participants to engage other corners of the broad field of religion, and name problems and issues which might be discussed profitably in a larger group. This might include

– Theoretical and historiographical issues:  As many old paradigms are abandoned, shall we try to build new ‘total‘ explanations? Which recent developments do we find particularly useful and why?

– Conceptual issues to do with the history of religion, which might profit from interdisciplinary discussion. Not least, we might discuss which approaches to religion itself we consider useful at the moment.

– Future plans, including ideas on how to cross-fertilize adjacent research fields methodologically and organizationally, and research questions which could connect separate fields, ideas to break down very compartmentalized approaches, but also possible events.


Opening congress of COST Action IS1301: New Communities of Interpretation. Contexts, Strategies and Processes of Religious Transformation in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe

As I am writing this, the first Congress of a new European network is being opened: Since last September, COST Action IS1301 has been under way, with over 100 researchers setting out to study ‘Contexts, Strategies and Processes of Religious Transformation’. Many people working on religion and/or book history in the Late Medieval and Early Modern period will already have heard of this COST Action, but for those who haven’t, some basic facts: Continue reading “Opening congress of COST Action IS1301: New Communities of Interpretation. Contexts, Strategies and Processes of Religious Transformation in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe”

Conference “Putative Purities: Transcultural Dimensions of Master Narratives in Religion”, 16th – 18th of December, 2013

In a few days, I will attend a conference at Heidelberg with an excitingly trans-/intercultural focus, with many papers on Asian religion. On more familiar ground, it notably includes Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge), one of my favorite Early Modern Historians. Her keen eye for the problems inherent in theoretical frameworks in the history of religion should make for an interesting paper1. Also, of course, the indefatigable Antje Flüchter will be there, visiting from her new position at the University of Oslo. Here’s the programme….

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  1. See especially Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation and ‘The Disenchantment of the World’ Reassessed’, The Historical Journal, 51, 2 (2008), pp. 497–528. doi:10.1017/S0018246X08006808; an article entitled ‘Migrations of the Holy’ is forthcoming in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. []

“New religious histories sessions” for Leeds IMC 2014

The “New religious histories” sessions for the upcoming International Medieval Congress Leeds 2014, in a slightly revised version.

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„Monasticisms and mendicancies“ workshop at Sheffield, 22. November 2013

In my attempts to understand the contentious and colorful world of thirteenth-century religion, I am at the moment trying to build closer links to historians of the monastic and mendicant orders. Beyond the busy German scene and blogosphere, an all-around felicitous connection to colleagues in Northern England has developed up recently, which has led to a proposal for four exciting sessions and a roundtable on ’New religious histories’ at Leeds next year, co-organized by Amanda Power (Sheffield), Melanie Brunner (Leeds), and myself. More on that to follow.