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

Research Seminar 'Between myth and reality: Rules of observance as texts of life in the High Middle Ages'

When:Mo 11-03-2024
Where:Collaboratory A, Harmonie building

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 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.

Confirmed speakers: Dr Babette Hellemans (RUG), Dr Bert Roest (RU), Prof Wim Verbaal (UGent)

Organizer and contact person: Dr Babette Hellemans (

Participants: All interested in this theme, including Research Master and PhD-students. There is no entrance fee, but registration is required. You can also assist this course as a participant without following the assignments.

Amount of ECTS and students maximum: 2 ECTS (2x28h), max. amount of ReMa/PhD-students: 12, total research school participants 15 (=incl. speakers).