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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for Historical Studies (CHS)

PhD ceremony T.B. Lap, Consoling for homesickness

When:Th 11-11-2021 14:30 - 15:30
Where:Academy building

T.B. (Theo) Lap will defend his doctoral thesis on Thursday 11 November 2021.

Consoling for homesickness
The transformation of worldly bonds in three 12th-century monastic letter collections


  • Prof. Dr C.G. Santing
  • Prof. Dr C. Jedan

Our understanding of medieval monasteries sways between two unrealistic extremes. Either the monastery is a place of religious and sexual repression or it is idealized as a form of retreat. The latter view is tempting in light of the popularity of contemporary silent retreats, which are regarded as beneficial for self-discovery, introspection, or therapy. This study demonstrates that the reality of the monastic life was more nuanced. It was, in fact, a difficult way of life to commit to yet solutions were sought to remedy this. In the 11th and 12th centuries, letter collections, rather than saints’ lives or collections of examples, fulfilled an important psychological function. This extraordinary and widely read genre functioned as a consolatory self-help book for those who had withdrawn themselves from the world. Letter collections helped monks and nuns come to terms with the hardship and the homesickness of a life of seclusion, having said farewell to their former ways of life, loved ones, and homes. Anonymous scribes produced letter collections on the basis of the letters of eminent leaders of the church (like St. Anselm of Canterbury, Arnulf of Lisieux, and Peter of Celle). Their contents were arranged in such a way to represent exemplars that targeted the needs and wants of their religious community. Readers learned how to transform their undesirable emotions, such as homesickness, into more advantageous desires for the monastic life and God. Therefore, this study has also broadened our understanding of how cultures deal with processes of attachment and dislocation, which are relevant at times of refugee crises.

The University Library publishes the thesis digitally after the defence ceremony.