(C5) Heresy and Politics: The Establishment of Norms and Forms of Procedure in Large-scale Ecclesiastical Controversies, 12th – 14th Centuries.

Since the twelfth century, religious conflicts and large-scale controversies shaped an emerging ecclesiastical public and influenced intellectual and institutional developments. High-impact conflicts which left visible traces in the normative order of ecclesiastical law and theology mainly developed in the power triangle between the papacy, the newly emerging religious orders and movements, and the universities. The project proposes to study the complex processes of normative change in this field, which witnessed tendencies of rationalization as well as countermovements of charismatic religious renewal.

Project focus: Politicized heresy trials

From the first clashes between scholastic theologians and their adversaries in the twelfth century onwards, competition and conflict reigned between various intellectual communities belonging to religious orders or universities. Even the otherwise heavily privileged mendicant orders were occasionally drawn into conflicts and heresy debates. The project treats various heresy trials against individual exponents of the new learning or the new religion, seeing them both as symptoms of underlying epistemological and institutional tensions and as catalysts which contributed to larger changes within the church: In the trials against early theologians, in the heated controversy between mendicant orders and secular clergy and finally in the escalating struggle between papacy and Spiritual Franciscans, the church was forced into a continuing discourse about its own authority and values. The project is interested in the conflict culture emerging from these struggles, and binds together a number of case studies concerning the construction of religious and intellectual authority, the staging of political consensus, and the fraught procedures of ecclesiastical decision-making.

Book project: The Conflict between Secular Clergy and Mendicant Orders in Medieval France, c. 1250-1300

My current book project is a new account of the  bitter controversy between secular clergy and mendicants in 13th-century France. This conflict first escalated spectacularly in and around the University of Paris in the 1250s, but produced several smaller local conflicts over the next decades, thus feeding an ongoing theoretical debate about ecclesiastical office and its authority. In intellectual history especially, the role of this conflict as a backdrop for various rivalries and controversies has long been known. The planned book will attempt to provide a new coherent account, emphasizing the role the conflict dynamic itself played for the differentiation of legal and religious discourses, and the center-periphery dynamic of the papacy and local churches. The emerging Late Medieval sphere of religious debate and its overlapping cultures of legal, theological and charismatic authority form the core interest of the book.


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Project focus: Scriptural experts and their authority (with the study group Authorship)

A second focus of the project concerns the authority of ‚scriptural experts’ – a term here used loosely to denote scholars whose authority or expertise rests on their handling of sacralized written tradition. Work on this aspect is carried out within the Exzellenzcluster’s ‚Authorship’ group.

As recent research has shown, the epistemological changes in the central Middle Ages also prompted fundamental changes and differentiations in the staging and performance of learned expertise over religious and political matters. The twelfth century witnessed a distinct split in typical forms of authorization, for example: On one hand, the schools advocated an ideal type of ‚theologian’ resting his authority on the command of specialized terminologies and methods. On the other hand, competing and corresponding concepts of ‚existential authorisation’ (Christel Meier) were propagated in non-university milieux, especially monastic networks. My work with the ‚Authorship’ group represents the attempt to adapt concepts of ‚authorship’ developed in the study of literature for use in a cultural history of knowledge. I especially hope to engage in discussion which can break the established boundaries separating the study of Western European scholarship from other cultures. To develop a comparative and transcultural perspective, ongoing dialogue concerns the role of scholars in the Latin West, Byzantium and Islamic and Jewish communities.

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