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Substantial NWO grant for research into religious reading culture in mediaeval cities

30 July 2014

Dr Sabrina Corbellini and Prof. Bart Ramakers from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen were recently awarded a prestigious grant of € 750,000 by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for a project entitled ‘ Cities of Readers: Religious Literacies in the Long Fifteenth Century’.

The project that has been honoured will develop a new vision of the ‘long fifteenth century’ (c. 1400-1550), and show that this period was fundamental in the formation of the cultural identity of modern Europe. Contrary to commonly held opinions, it was not the elite (such as court nobility, church and clergy), but ordinary people who created new forms of religious participation for themselves and played an active role in the transfer of religious knowledge in colloquial languages. These dynamics were an important breeding ground for the civil participation that developed in Europe in the late Middle Ages.

Religious writings in colloquial languages

New forms of religious participation by ‘laypersons’ started to evolve when, from the fifteenth century onwards, increasing numbers of religious writings started to become available in everyday language in the more urbanized areas of Europe. Recent research has shown that these texts were not only translated from Latin and passed to laypersons by priests/monks and nuns, but that laypersons (most of them city dwellers) also played an active part in collecting, writing, adapting and distributing these texts in the shape of manuscripts and printed books.


In addition to this innovative bottom-up approach, Cities of Readers not only focuses on the individual, but also on the religious participation of groups as a whole. The researchers are assuming that groups not only worked on the texts (collecting, writing, adapting, reading them), but were also often responsible for the results of their work (interpretations, ideas, behaviour). One of the main project aims is to study the religious practices of laypersons in the Netherlands and Northern France, areas that are unique because of the broad geographical distribution of texts and the relatively high prevalence of multilingualism among readers.

Free Competition Humanities

The project is being funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) as part of the Free Competition Humanities. The research, which is expected to start in January 2015, will be carried out by a postdoc researcher and two PhD students, supervised by Dr S. Corbellini and Prof. B. Ramakers. It will be conducted in the Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) and will contribute to the Sustainable Society focus area of the University of Groningen. More information about the project is available from the project leaders via S.Corbellini

Curriculum Vitae

Dr S. Corbellini is a Rosalind Franklin Fellow and works for the Faculty of Arts as an assistant professor in the department of Mediaeval History. She is an expert in the cultural history of the Middle Ages , the history of books and Dutch Mediaeval literature.

Prof. B.A.M. Ramakers is Professor of Historical Dutch Literature in the Faculty of Arts. He is an expert in the field of Dutch literature until 1800, particularly literature from the Middle Ages and the Chambers of Rhetoric.

Last modified:13 March 2020 02.21 a.m.
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