Diversitas religionum. Thirteenth-century foundations of a European Discourse of Religious Diversity


Quelle: Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Way-of-salvation-church-militant-triumphant-andrea-di-bonaiuto-1365.jpg?uselang=de


This research project is based on a Dilthey Fellowship, encompassing a five-year grant by the Volkswagen Foundation in the framework of the initiative Pro Geisteswissenschaften.

Within the project, Prof. Dr. Sita Steckel cooperates with two doctoral researchers, Stephanie Kluge M.Ed.  and Andra-Nicoleta Alexiu M.A.

Research issues: Linking religiones and religions

Research of the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries tended to see the medieval Latin church as a monolithic counter-image to dynamic modernity. Though mid-twentieth-century views ceased to understand Medieval Christianity as the embodiment of a static or slow-changing religiosity, they still often portrayed it as repressive and anti-pluralistic. It was argued that the Latin world even lacked a concept of ‚religions’ to express the notion of religious plurality – as Christian authors tended to see other religions as ‚superstition’ or heresy, while the term religiones denoted religious orders and observances.

By now, these claims are largely disproved. It is being recognized that medieval authors were able to juxtapose different religions conceptually, mainly through the term leges. Current views are also much more conscious of the many religious contact zones across Europe and the Mediterranean continuum, which saw recurring re-negotiations of religious boundaries, especially between Christian, Islamic and Jewish communities.

Maybe because of this increasing focus on Euro-Mediterranean contact zones, the religious dynamics within Medieval Christianity have remained a largely separate research area – though there is much research on heresy, on various religious orders and the competition and ‚multiple options’ within Latin Christianity alone, inter-religious and intra-Christian developments are parts of different research traditions. How, then, do the internal dynamics of the Latin church relate to the religious dynamics visible in its contact zones? If medieval contemporaries connected intra-Christian dynamics to cultural encounters in the contact zones – which it appears they did – research should also link these areas. Rather than working within clearly demarcated areas, religious encounter between Islam, Judaism and Christianity should be studied in connection to the dynamics visible in the many orthodox or heretical religious movements of the high and late Middle Ages.

The research project attempts to follow one possible trajectory for such a connected approach, focusing on the highly relevant (if rather counter-intuitive) subject of polemics. As we argue, Latin polemical discourses of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourtheenth centuries can be seen as a discursive contact zone in which ways of perceiving and describing intra-Christian and inter-religious dynamics seem to become entangled. As this was no straightforward process, any study must attempt to isolate and describe specific strands of polemical discourse, and search for their crossing points and interrelations. The thirteenth century, for example, seems to witness a transfer of older anti-heretical arguments into sustained debates about the multiplicity of religious orders, the diversitas religionum. As the two discourses developed shared (though by no means completely overlapping) themes and terminologies, they merged into a discourse about religious plurality and diversity. As we hope to show, this thirteenth-century discourse then formed the basis for further conceptual entanglement with anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish polemic.

The project is currently in its first stage, which aims to clarify how twelfth- and thirteenth-century polemical discourses formed within the shifting configurations of audiences and communication networks of the period. In a second step, the project will focus on the conceptual entanglement between anti-heretical, anti-mendicant, anti-clerical and anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish polemics.

Within the context of the project, Andra Alexiu’s dissertation traces the context and adaptation of the polemical works of Hildegard of Bingen, whose anti-heretical texts were re-used in various thirteenth-century constellations to construct anti-mendicant arguments. Stephanie Kluge’s dissertation aims to study exchange and boundary-work between different clerical and mendicant groups of the thirteenth century by focusing on polemics debating religious masculinity. All publications will be listed on the personal pages of the investigators.