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Research Seminar: Between Myth and Reality: Rules Of Observance As Texts Of Life In The High Middle Ages (RUG, 11 March 2024)

maandag 11 maart 2024
Collaboratorie A, Harmoniegebouw (Groningen)

During the ‘long twelfth century’ monastic communities situated in the countryside mostly followed the Benedictine Rule. However, the ideal of following this rule became increasingly problematic. Female leaders of monasteries like Heloise of Argenteuil started to question certain aspects of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Hildegard of Bingen produced an entirely authentic world view on monasticism in her manuscript paintings, music and other texts. And we have famous abbots like Bernard of Clairvaux who famously criticized the application of the Rule during his own life-time, leading into the Cistercian reform. In the cities, new communities such as the Franciscan Order emerged in the 13th century, proposing alternative interpretations of how to live an ascetic life. In addition, the growing literacy of lay-people created new forms-of-life based on rules adapted to a life outside religious orders. More recently, theoretical cultural-anthropological implications of the life rule as a form-of-life have been debated by, amongst others, Giorgio Agamben and Roland Barthes.

This workshop addresses the historical-anthropological question of what it meant to follow a Rule as a ‘way of life’ in the High Middle Ages. Instead of considering texts and material remains of a monastic order as a ‘textual community’, this workshop challenges the question of considering sources such as written texts as merely historical proof of a certain culture and community, as it focuses on the idealized nature of monasticism as a form-of-life. It also explicitly connects the cultural-historical question of ‘texts of life’ to present-day concerns about life-styles as utopic, perhaps even mythical, forms of life.

Due to the character of this workshop, which includes an interactive reading of texts and discussions about visual culture, online participation will unfortunately not be possible.


9.00: Welcome with coffee and tea

9.15-9.30: Introduction to this workshop, meeting the participants

9.30-10.15: History and the Anthropology of Life-Rules: Roland Barthes, Giorgio Agamben and the Idea of the 12th c. Cenobitic Crisis - Dr. Babette Hellemans (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)

10.15-10.45: break with coffee and tea

10.45-11.30: Forma vitae in the 13th Century (Urban) Landscape: Experiment and Backlash in Minorite, Penitential and Beguine Contexts - Dr. Bert Roest (Radboud Universiteit)              

11.30-12.40: Freedom of the Rule: Rigidity, Flexibility, and Recovery of the Self - Reading Class with Prof. Wim Verbaal (Universiteit Gent)

12.40-13.30: lunch

13.30-13.45: technical preparations (preparation of laptops, divisions into groups)

13.45-15.45: team work on the posters, preparing the presentations (self-service for coffee and tea)

15.45-16.45: presentation of the posters, discussion and further instructions about assignment

16.45-17.30: drinks

More information

Organizer and contact person for further information: Dr Babette Hellemans (b.s.hellemans@rug.nl)

Participants: All interested in this theme, including Research Master and PhD-students. There is no entrance fee, but registration is required. Research Master students can obtain 2 ECTS by attending and completing an assignment. You can also attend this course as a participant without following the assignments.

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