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Doctoral fellow – The Quest for Otherness. Uncovering Narratives of Religious Distinction in the ‘Long Tenth Century

One doctoral position (PhD studentship) is available starting 1 May 2020 (with the possibility of a delayed start until 30 December 2020) on an FWO Senior Research Project titled ‘The Quest for Otherness. Uncovering Narratives of Religious Distinction in the ‘Long Tenth Century’.

The eleventh century is commonly seen as the time when Western Christianity first drew strict moral and behavioral boundaries between the servants of the Church and the laity. Recent scholarship has indicated, though, that many ideas and solutions propagated then built on a legacy from up to two hundred years earlier. Crucially, the contribution of the ‘long tenth century’ (c. 880–1020/30) – a critical transition phase – remains for the most part unknown. While case studies have shown that commentators of this period were deeply preoccupied with the moral identity and conduct of ecclesiastical personnel in particular, a systematic investigation of surviving testimonies remains a major gap in religious and historical scholarship. In order to resolve this gap, the project will offer a detailed reconstruction of a large, regionally defined sample of narratives of religious distinction.

Supervised at the Ghent University by prof. dr. Steven Vanderputten, in a first part of the project the PhD researcher will work on a well-defined set of mostly narrative sources to establish how exactly tenth-century commentators described the separate moral and social status of clerics, monks, and women religious. The researcher will look at precisely which properties –in terms of physical appearance, social conduct, and morality generally– they attributed to the ideal member of each of these cohorts, and which ones they considered a cause for scandal. In addition, they will reconstruct the precise settings in which these authors situated their descriptions: did they give a literal account of the ‘stage play’ of the distinct morality of ecclesiastical personnel (for instance, by portraying appropriate behaviour as it was supposed to be displayed during liturgical and other ceremonies, secular feasts, public meetings, ceremonies, individual interactions with the laity, and interactions within religious communities), or did they instead speak mostly in abstract terms? Finally, the researcher will also seek to establish the specific purpose of these accounts of distinction, which was the intended audience, and if they were transmitted outside of their original context of origin. In case of the latter, were they adapted in any way?

In a second part, the PhD researcher will try to establish if specific narratives on religious distinction can be matched with specific political, institutional, intellectual, and personal networks. Similarities in the argument of a number of key texts suggest that this is the case. However, due to the limited attempts at comparative analysis and the slim body of studied evidence we currently have very little to validate – or invalidate – this impression. Nor has there been a systematic effort to consider either cross-pollination of ideas and narratives between different networks, or the internal differences of views within specific networks. A key point is the adaptation of religious distinction narratives when they were transferred from major institutional and intellectual centers to small communities of clerics, monks, or women religious. In other words, are there indications that local expectations (by the religious themselves and by their social environment) and traditions influenced the way in which these narratives were received by, and communicated to, the religious in these places?

The project’s innovative quality lies in the fact that it transcends the focus of former scholarship on specific commentators and their work. Not only will it undertake an unprecedented comparative study of known commentaries, it will also considerably expand the body of primary evidence by including a range of narrative texts that have so far remained beyond the specialists’ focus. As such, this project will award to the long tenth century the key place it deserves in the study of religious reflection and debate in the medieval West.

The fellowship provides a monthly salary of ca. 1900 euros on a full-time basis, in concordance with the requirements of the Flemish Government. It is fiscally exempted and Ghent University offers a holiday allowance, gratis public transport between home and work place, access to university sports facilities and university restaurants, and end-of-year bonus. For more information, see www.ugent.be/en/work.