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Faith, Heresy and Violence in the Latin Medieval Worlds

25-106 | Tuesday, 9 a.m. | 122
Session Chair: Dorothea Weltecke

Dorothea Weltecke

On religious violence in the Late Middle Ages

Religious violence is very present in today's public debates. In the humanities, violence has been studied intensively, but in different disciplines. In religious studies mega theories on religion and violence were developed which clearly assume religions as a cause of violence. On the contrary, in sociological and political studies on violence religion is onely rarely mentioned, and its function as a cause of violence is by no means given. Thirdly, historians studied individual traditions of violence and individual acts, identified agents, strategies and ideologies, but not usually refer to sociological theories of violence. Surprisingly, therefore, there is no history of religious violence proper. Could there be and what could be a genuine historical contribution to the debate on religious violence? As a first attempt to answer this question three emblematic aspects of late medieval religious violence (the crusades, the inquisition, the persecution of Jews in the German lands) shall be discussed in the light of the theories.

Pekka Tolonen

Conceptualising differences in religions and faiths in the High Middle Ages

In the High Middle Ages by and after the so called Gregorian Reform the boundaries of Christianity and orthodoxy became acute again (after the late Antiquity). With the lack of a word for the modern “religion” the area was discerned otherwise. Outside of Christianity there were the Pagans and Idolaters. Christianity itself was divided into orthodoxy and heresy. Jews and Muslims found their place within a Christian historical framework being not quite heretical Christians but not either fully Pagan (Nongbri 2013). The growing awareness of “us” and “them” within Western Christianity has been observed to be connected to the formation of the persecuting society, where different kinds of minorities were excluded more strongly (Moore 1987). It should also be noted that the use of the words Pagans, Idolaters and Heretics was highly polemical and political during the Middle Ages (Janson 2003; Patschovsky 2003) clearly demonstrates how religion then stretched to other areas of human culture (e.g. social, economical, political) in a different way than today. In this larger context of sharpening the boundary of “us” and “them” I will concentrate on intra-religious discussions. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there was growing interest in the different orders of the church and comparison between them (Bynum 1984). Texts like the anonymous twelfth century Libellus de diversis Ordinibus et Professionibus qui sunt in Aecclesia (Constable and Smith 1972) and James of Vitry’s thirteenth century Historia Occidentalis (Hinnebusch 1972) are good examples of this. How do they compare the different vocations and lifestyles? In my paper I will juxtapose these learned texts with the experience of the unlearned. The earliest sources of the Inquisition in Languedoc include a list of more than 600 people who had had dealings with heretics (Cathars and Waldensians) during the early thirteenth century (Duvernoy 2001). The sources depict a time when competing groups were debating with each other. Most of the people interrogated had contacts with only one group while there were also men and women who would have contacts with both of them. How did people see the different groups and the Roman church which condemned the others? The view of the Inquisition is also present in the source. Posing questions to the people shows the underlying understanding of “religion” and religious movements. All of these sources shed an interesting light on “medieval religious sociology”.

Stamatia Noutsou

The sociotheological turn and the study of religious violence in the Middle Ages and a case study: The Cistercian epistemic worldview and the violence against the heretics

Having as point of departure Ames' argument, that “In various ways, religious convictions could build foundations for repression in particular circumstances, and violence could play diverse roles within an economy of belief” (2005), the aim of this paper is to examine the interlink between the Cistercian epistemic worldview with the violent persecution of heretics, by focusing on the anti-heretical writings of the Cistercian monks in the second half of the twelfth century. Following the sociotheological approach, which studies “a group's internal epistemic worldview” and the external world, where the group operates (Juergensmeyer and Sheikh: 2013), I will analyze how the the internal Cistercian religious beliefs in relation to the external social structures led to the violent persecution of heretics

Tomas Bubik

Church reformer John Hus as a model for the re-interpretation of religious, national, and social identity

The figure of the medieval reformer John Hus, burnt at the stake in 1415 at the council of Constance, has been reinterpreted throughout the Czech history. On the one hand, the Catholic Church considered him a heretic rebelling against the authority of the Church, undermining its doctrinal positions and respect towards the Church. On the other hand, Czech Reformation regarded Hus as a role model of religious life, willing to sacrifice his life for higher ideals. Nationalists have tried to use Hus as a symbol of anti-German resistance, and as the national character (genuine Czech-ness). Further, some Marx-Leninists saw Hus as a significant social reformer who stood up against the feudal type of social order and who represented social critique of his society. All these interpretations illustrate the fact that a religious leader can gain many faces during history, all construed depending on the social needs and prevailing ideology.

Alexandra Cuffel


The commentary will address the degree to which the above case studies parallel instances of equilibrium or violence in Jewish and Christian minorities' interactions with the Muslim majority in the Middle East from the eleventh-sixteenth centuries.