Each year the Medieval Institute sponsors Working Groups, an opportunity for faculty fellows and graduate students to investigate a topic relating to shared research interests.
Current Working Groups
Ancient and Medieval Theories of the Image
Faculty: Thérèse Scarpelli Cory; Jennie Grillo; Robin Jensen; Wiebke-Marie Stock
Graduate Students: Kelsi Ray; Carlos Diego Arenas Pacheco
Part of the Catholic intellectual tradition is a long thread of reflection about the making of images, particularly religious images. From Biblical and Platonic roots through the great iconoclast controversies and the upheavals of the Reformations to the age of mechanical reproduction, the problematics of the image—and particularly of the religious image—have been articulated across different discourses and in dialogue with artistic production. This working group takes a step back from the current debates and returns to the philosophical and theological sources of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, combining the perspectives of theologians, philosophers and art historians to gain a fuller understanding of the notion of the image and of images.
Jewish and Christian Books in the First Millenium CE
Faculty: David Lincicum, Hildegund Müller, Adam Bremer-McCollum, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, Dan Hobbins, Peter Jeffrey, Luca Grillo, David Gura
Graduate Students: Jeremiah Coogan, Robert Edwards, Andrew King, Paul Wheatley, Angela Zautcke, Samuel Johnson, Kacie Klamm, Nathan Chase, Mourad Takawi, Dov Honick, Warren Campbell
This working group seeks to develop an ongoing conversation about the intersections between material texts and reading practices in Judaism and Christianity of the first millennium CE. As recent scholarship has emphasized, books do more than contain texts. Books are objects, always implicated in economic, ritual, and readerly matrices of production, collection, and use. One never encounters a disembodied text, apart from the material constraints and paratextual interventions that enable its physical existence. Nor do books read themselves; they are manipulated by reading communities with specific reading practices. The burgeoning discipline of book history creates and applies knowledge of the material, cultural, and theoretical aspects of the book. Associated practices of authorship, editing, reading, and collecting-ancient and modern-as well as the material culture and reading practices associated with non-book texts likewise fall within its scope. Christian and Jewish communities have often oriented themselves around books and reading and the insights of book history enrich the study of Judaism, Christianity, and their interactions with one another. This working group will thus focus on the material reception and interaction of Jewish and Christian texts from Late Antiquity into the early modern period; the Middle Ages are both chronologically and conceptually central to this conversation.
Medieval Women's Learning and Literacy
Faculty: Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John van Engen, Megan J. Hall, Katie Bugyis, C. J. Jones, Jessalynn Bird, Molly Gower
Graduate Students: Lauren Jean, Eileen Morgan, Erica Hastings, Rachel Hanks, Emily McLemore
For decades now the reigning paradigm for the study of medieval women has been that of “women and the body,” a product of the 1970s feminist movement’s rejection of intellectual abstraction as complicit with a male-dominated, ivory-towered world. This paradigm cites embodiment as the primary locus and determinant of medieval women’s experience of themselves and their historical situations, and contends that only in the recovery of women’s bodies in all of their possibilities and limitations—particularly as they mark women as different from men—can the voices of women be recovered in their totality. While we honor our feminist foremothers and remain grateful that their scholarship has done much to recover the voices of medieval women that were unacknowledged for far too long in medieval historiographies, we feel that the primacy of this paradigm has outlived its usefulness. It contributes now to an uncomfortable essentializing of women as somehow exclusively preoccupied with, if not subject to, their material bodies, and thus forces an artificial dichotomy between the histories of women and men. The Middle Ages, by contrast, with its extraordinarily rich concepts of interiority, inner psychology, and transcendence offers a much wider perspective on women’s roles than we, as medievalists, are collectively exploring these days.
This working group, then, focus not women and the body, but women and the mind, exploring women’s intellectual history by looking closely at what and how women learned in the Middle Ages, and what relationship(s) they enjoyed with literacy. Like their male counterparts, medieval women were capable of acting as forceful political agents; rigorous, and even transgressive theological, medical, and legal thinkers; innovative authors and artists; and courageous champions of ecclesiastical and social reform.
Religion and Pluralism in the Medieval Mediterranean
Faculty: Thomas Burman, Gabriel Reynolds, Deborah Tor, Hussein Abdulsater, Li Guo, Jessalyn Bird, Mahan Mirza, Ebrahim Moosa, Catherine Bronson, Robin Jensen
Graduate Student: Andrea Castonguay, Mourad Takawi, Rufino Dango, Romain Thurin, Jeffery Berland, Catherine Perl, Spencer Hunt, Andrew O’Connor, Eve Wolynes, Janice Gunther Martin
The working group will explore questions pertaining to the study of religions, religious interactions, the formation of identity and community, and the state of the fields of religion, literature, and history in the medieval Mediterranean. Our group will continue to invite participants to consider the ways in which the medieval Mediterranean world was shaped by religious pluralism and the interaction of religions (principally Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and how that reality is reflected in contemporary scholarship. Through this working group, participants will continue to appreciate contemporary scholarship on various aspects of the medieval Mediterranean across a wide range of disciplines.
The Transformation of Classical Texts in the Middle Ages
Faculty: W. Martin Bloomer, David Gura, Hildegund Müller, Julia Schneider, Stephen Metzger
Graduate Students: Erik Ellis, Kelsi Ray, Carlos Arenas Pacheco, Emily Mahan
Undergraduate Student: Joshua Anthony
This MI working group studies how the texts of pagan sapientia are accommodated to, become vehicles for, help articulate, and modify Christian ideas, institutions, and doctrine. We are working on both the practical level of the individual text and manuscript and at a more theoretical level. We focus mainly on the commentary tradition of the Disticha Catonis, a very important text with a long and varied history in the Middle Ages, with the hope of understanding not simply allegorizing practices but, more deeply, how sapientia is reframed in a Christianizing mode. We are also considering the theoretical and methodological issues involved in recuperating modes of reading and recomposition and in determining how an object or idea from a foreign religion is accommodated to the mainstream religion.
Submitting a Proposal
The deadline for proposing 2020–21 Working Groups is April 1, 2020. Please review the Proposal and Submission Instructions to prepare and submit an application.
Guidelines for Working Groups
Approved groups will want to review the Guidelines for Working Groups so they are familiar with the necessary steps for planning their events and running their groups.