14 Oct 2013 12:30pm - 2:00pm CRASSH Meeting Room


Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work in Progress seminar series.  All welcome, but please email Michelle Maciejewska if you wish to attend and to request readings.   Sandwich lunch and refreshments provided.

Dr Erik Niblaeus


It is a commonplace in contemporary accounts of the central middle ages (here taken to mean c. 1000–1300) to posit a Europe divided into a ‘centre’ and a ‘periphery’ – the former consisting of the old-Christian, post-Roman lands: the successor states of Carolingian Francia, Italy, and England; the latter of newcomers to Christianity and Latin literacy (Hungary, Poland, the Scandinavian kingdoms), or regions such as Ireland and Wales. Such a division is by no means unproblematic or innocent – indeed, one could replace the terms ‘central’ and ‘peripheral’ with ‘cultured’ and ‘barbaric’, or even ‘civilised’ and ‘backward’ and the meaning would in many ways remain unchanged. The assumption is that the peripheral was in the process of becoming more like the centre: cultural goods flowed toward the European edges; customs and habits dispersed. This process is commonly called ‘Europeanisation’: the making of Europe as a cultural entity. It is something of a paradox: at the same time, nations were becoming increasingly important – Europe also grew into a gathering of peoples, taken by at least part of their respective populations to be essentially different from one another.

My research project investigates an important part of the process of Europeanisation – the diffusion of a new mode of religious organisation, the parish. The parish priest in his parish church, with its baptismal font, its bell-tower, and its churchyard, is a familiar figure across central and western Europe; and in pre-industrial Europe, one of particular importance. From the central middle ages onward, the parish was the principal locus of interaction between the clergy and the vast majority of the laity. It was a centre of communication; a place where the locality encountered the universal hierarchy of the church. Its origins are unclear: the connection between the parochia of Carolingian Francia and the later-medieval parish is disputed. Scholars tend to agree that most of the Latin West was divided into parishes over the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but ‘parish formation’ as a broader process nonetheless remains something of a mystery, and the older literature on the subject is sometimes riddled with teleologies and anachronistic assumptions. Most previous studies have been local in focus, selective in detail, and, by necessity, have lacked a wider conceptual framework. At CRASSH, I will investigate the interplay between this development and the cultural dynamics at the outskirts of the European centre, and at least begin a more broadly comparative, transregional study of the topic.   


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