Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Mobility of Ideas and Transmission of Texts. Vernacular Literature and Learning in the Rhineland and the Low Countries (ca. 1300-1550)

The programme focuses on the medieval dynamics of intellectual life in the Rhineland and the Low countries, nowadays divided over five countries (Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands) but one cultural region in the later Middle Ages.

2009 - 2015
Geert Warnar
Marie Curie Seventh Framework Programme Marie Curie Seventh Framework Programme

Mobility of Ideas and Transmission of Texts is an international “Initial Training Network”, consisting of five research groups in the field of Middle Age literature and learning which offer research training to twelve “early stage researchers”. The research of the network focuses on the exchange of texts between academic and religious milieus in Germany and the Low Countries and the mutual influence in those circles. The research centers on physical source material: manuscripts and prints in which the cultural exchange takes shape.

Mobility of Ideas and Transmission of Texts studies the medieval transmission of learning from the ecclesiastical and academic elites to the wider readership that could be reached through the vernacular. The programme focuses on the medieval dynamics of intellectual life in the Rhineland and the Low countries, nowadays divided over five countries (Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands) but one cultural region in the later Middle Ages. Here, the great fourteenth-century mystics Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Jan van Ruusbroec and their contemporaries produced a sophisticated vernacular literature on contemplative theology and religious practice.

The project seeks to develop a new perspective on this literary culture by looking at the readership, appropriation and circulation of texts in the contemporary religious and intellectual contexts. The programme unites expertise in the fields of medieval philosophy, religious studies, manuscript studies and Dutch and German literature, to provide structural training for interdisciplinary and international research in one of the medieval aspects of European culture of lasting merit. The training programme is built on a number of current research projects in which all full partners participate simultaneously, thus offering an adequate international infrastructure for a series of coherent PhD projects on medieval literature and learning that require a broader academic framework than the national literatures and other concepts of the modern tradition of academic disciplines. The programme prepares a new generation of medievalists for international careers in academic research, education and the presentation of the medieval cultural heritage.


At the heart of the MITT-programme are twelve research projects, that concentrate on a specific author, text or corpus of texts that is of interest for the mobility of ideas and/or transmission of texts within the mystical tradition of the Rhineland and the Low Countries. All projects look at texts and ideas that appear in new contexts in order to highlight the central theme of the programme: the mobility of ideas and the transmission of texts. 

As the individual clusters relate to specific (sub-)disciplines and require specific training, each project is assigned to the particular research group and supervisor that offer the most relevant expertise (philosophy, religious studies, German and Dutch literature), with reference to additional expertise to be obtained through a secondment at one of the other groups in the project. The coherence and synergy of the programme is further enhanced by a threefold clustering of PhD projects: 

1. Philosophy in the vernacular 
2. Religious literature and text exchange in the Rhineland and the Low Countries 
3. Reinventions and Reshaping of the Mystical Tradition


Executive Committee 

Other supervisors

Philosophy in the vernacular

The projects in this cluster study the transmission of learning (in Latin) from the universities and clerical centres of spiritual expertise to new contexts of city life and to new audiences of religious women and the laity (using the vernacular). Two projects concentrate on largely unedited manuscript material in Dutch sermon collections, containing sets of highly philosophical texts by Meister Eckhart and contemporary Dominican theologians and preachers. Transcriptions of the texts and an analysis of their origins will make it possible to describe the position of these collections in the literary, intellectual and religious networks in the Low Countries and the Rhineland. A third project focuses on the Dutch and German versions of texts ascribed to Dionysius Areopagita, charting the transmission of these translations and its origins, in order to describe the appropriation of professional theology in vernacular texts for lay audiences. The last project in this cluster studies a specific textual witness of the Eckhart-reception, a dialogue with the master that reflects the search for new forms of religious and intellectual authority in the medieval religious culture.   

Research projects: 

  • Theological discourse in the vernacular: An edition and analysis of the collection of  sermons by Eckhart and others in manuscript Berlin Staatsbibliothek germ. qu. 1084 (Lecce)
  • The appropriation of professional theology in vernacular texts for lay audiences: description of the medieval use and transmission of translated texts ascribed to Dionysius Areopagita in Dutch and German (Lecce)
  • Theological discourse in the vernacular: An edition and analysis of the collection of  sermons and the writings of Alijt Bake in manuscript Brussels Koninklijke bibliotheek 643-44 (Leiden)
  • Analysis and contextualization of the Dutch Dialogue of Eckhart and the Lay man within contemporary literature and as an example of reception of Eckhart in the fourteenth century (Leiden)

Religious literature and text exchange in the Rhineland and the Low Countries

The projects in this cluster focus on the exchange of texts, concepts and ideas between similar reading communities of preachers, nuns, beguines, secular clerics and patricians in the fourteenth century cities from the Upper Rhine region to the Low Countries. The case studies include the reception of Dutch mystical texts by Jan van Ruusbroec in the Alsace region, the circulation of sermons of Johannes Tauler from Strassbourg in the Low Countries as represented in the largest collection of these sermons and the influence of hagiographical writing other genres of religious literature practiced and read among the religious elites in the Low Counties and the Rhineland.  

Research projects:    

  • Dutch transmission of the sermons of Johannes Tauler on the basis of ms. Hildesheim, Dombibliothek 724b: (partial) edition and analysis (Leiden)
  • Writing Saints and saintly writing: a case study of the strategies of textualization in the writings of semi-religious women in the Rhineland (Oxford)
  • Literary Topography: An analysis of the collection exempla in ms. Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, mgf 863 (1435/40), within the literary and religious context of the late medieval Strassbourg (Strasbourg)

Reinventions and Reshaping of the Mystical Tradition

This cluster studies the continued reception of the fourteenth-century mystical tradition and the reactions it provoked within traditional academic circles. Most of the manuscripts with texts by Ruusbroec, Tauler and Eckhart date from the (second half) of the fifteenth century. Apart from this manuscript tradition, older material is adapted to changing needs, creating a new corpus of texts, based on fourteenth-century material. This process is studied in general by focusing on miscellaneous manuscripts, but also in particular. for two literary circles in the Low Countries: the Franciscan observance and the female religious communities guaranteed the transmission of the mystical tradition from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period. Another reinvention of the mystical tradition is found in the introduction of scholastic notions taken from contemporary commentaries on Aristotle and introduced into the vernacular treatises. Sometimes the direction was vice versa: vernacular treatises influenced scholastic thinking on the nature of the human soul as well. Both these directions are studied. 

Research projects:

  • Latin reactions to vernacular religious concepts: comparative analysis of Latin writings of academic theologians that commented or reacted upon the vernacular mystical tradition (Freiburg)
  • At the crossroads of Latin and vernacular theories of the soul: analysis of the interaction of late medieval academic theories of the soul and ideas on the soul in vernacular writing (Freiburg)
  • Texts accompanied by texts in late medieval manuscripts: analysis of the transmission of theological knowledge in Latin and vernacular miscellanies (Freiburg)
  • Franciscan observant literature: description of the reinvention of the mystical tradition by authors from the Franciscan observance movement (ca. 1500) (Antwerp)

The appropiation of medieval mysticism in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century: description and analysis of the popularity of fourteenth-century mystical Dutch and German texts in the sixteenth-century (Antwerp)

The purpose of the training programme for the ESR’s is to let them broaden and deepen their research skills in connected fields of medieval studies (German and Dutch literature, philosophy and theology) and to introduce them to related industrial activities (in research libraries, academic publishing, public understanding of the humanities and cultural heritage). This will be done in a combination of local and network-wide training. 

Each early stage researcher and her or his supervisor formulate a personal work plan for research, training, supervision and personal career development according to the procedures of the host organization, to be submitted for approval to the supervisory board of the project. This plan will also be the point of reference for the yearly progress reports, submitted to the home institution of the ESR and the executive committee of the programme. In order for the ESR to fully participate in the network and its activities the plan contains a detailed description of the research project and makes clear that the ESR’s:

  1. accept a supervisor at the institution where they conduct their research
  2. accept an additional advisor at one of the other partners in the programme, preferably at the institution of the secondment
  3. take part actively in the meetings and workshops of the network
  4. participate in the project website
  5. do research at another participating institution within the network for 3-6 months
  6. (co-)organise at least one of the network meetings
  7. take part in a course for complementary skills each year, including a course on career perspectives
  8. engage in industrial activities relating to the network and/or to the associated partners (research libraries, academic publishing)

The ESR’s follow a training programme that combines local expertise, courses and activities with network meetings that are organised especially for structured training and instruction on topics related to the central themes of MITT, making use of the combined expertise of the partners in the programme. Both on the level of local training and network meetings there is a mix of specific instruction on required research skills and courses or seminars that introduce students to broader issues and complementary expertise for future career. 

All research groups offer the expertise and facilities for specific training in the disciplines that are of primary interest to the individual research projects: medieval language and literature, philosophy, theology or spirituality. At each of the host organizations the ESR’s are trained in studying texts from the perspective of intellectual and cultural history, gender studies, literary theory and attitudes toward reading and writing in Latin and the vernacular. Depending on the required expertise for the particular projects, students are encouraged to participate in courses of the partner institutions or benefit from the available training facilities in one of the other host organizations – in combination with or in addition to the 3-6 months secondment. In addition the ESR’s participate in the network seminars and workshops that address methodological and interdisciplinary topics.

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