Politics, Society, and Liturgy
in the Middle Ages
Liturgy - understood as explicitly religious ritual - was a fundamental part of medieval society. In all its different forms and dimensions, liturgy permeated, impacted, articulated, and even shaped almost all aspects of both individual and communal human life. Its impact ranged from the demarcation of time and life’s liminal moments, over interpersonal relations and public communication, to corporeal, intellectual, and affective experience. Given this vast influence, understanding how liturgy functioned in direct relation to its extra-liturgical contexts - not merely as a sterile, disconnected, and monolithic activity, but as ritualized actions that were intrinsically connected to the world in which they occurred - is thus fundamental to any historian’s comprehension of medieval society. However, even though liturgy so powerfully offered structures of meaning and practice to medieval communities, its actual impact on the socio-political level is strongly under-researched; just as conversely, the influence of the political on the liturgical has been underappreciated.
This disregard has its roots in the historiographic traditions and division of the institutions that have separated the study of medieval politics from that of the liturgy, and furthermore pursued this research in isolation of other centers of study. Liturgical manuscripts have been studied by scholars mostly interested in the evolution of worship practices rather than political culture. Frequently their research has been influenced by the pastoral concerns of the Liturgical Movement, and their research goal has been to reform worship in contemporary Christian denominations rather than to understand past societies through the perspective of the liturgy. On the other hand, scholars interested in political culture have focused on other types of sources, mostly narrative and diplomatic material, and on questions which these sources could help answer. Often those scholars have not appreciated liturgy and its impact on medieval political life. Yet, it is necessary to build a bridge between these two areas of liturgical scholarship and political theory. This new approach is called for by recent achievements in the humanities.
The scholarly study of medieval ritual behavior has dynamically increased lately, opening up new fields of research that range from post-structural concerns, issues of formalism, and medieval mentalities and emotions, to methodological abilities to correctly understand practices and meanings (i.e. Gerd Althoff, Geoffrey Koziol, Philippe Buc, Jean-Claude Schmitt, Christina Pössel). Thanks to the ‘performative turn’ in the humanities, it has become commonly accepted that public behavior could exteriorize ideas on how society should be organized, and that ritual behavior could become an instrument of politics and ideological performances. Yet, while scholarship has focused on the rituals of social interactions in secular and ecclesiastical contexts, liturgical texts and their political and societal impacts have not been very often included in those studies, although liturgy, in both its codified form and its practical application, was an essential part of medieval societies and a rich corpus of the primary source material is available for study.
Only a few scholars have noticed the significant link between liturgy and politics. The PSALM-Network goal is – by following the historiographic traditions as presented in the works of Carl Erdmann, Percy Ernst Schramm, Ernst Kantorowicz, Arnold Angenendt, Michael McCormick, Éric Palazzo, Cecilia Gaposchkin among others – to deepen the study of liturgy as an integral component of social and political notions and actions. Furthermore, it is our mission to intensify and promote research on the multiple social and political meanings and objectives of the medieval liturgy in its various forms and on its significance for the study of medieval societies. Therefore, PSALM is meant as a research network that builds a bridge between the specialized fields of liturgical studies, on the one hand, and the social and political history of the Middle Ages on the other.
The goal of the PSALM-Network is also to create a platform for scholars from different fields, methodological backgrounds, institutions, and research traditions. The network explicitly intends to bring together scholars who usually do not confer at the same venues and to offer a locus of debate and different methodological approaches. The emphasis on international and interdisciplinary collaboration is chosen deliberately, for we are convinced that we are only able to understand the various forms of liturgy, their local traditions, and meanings for the individual communities, and their contextualization within medieval societies through international and interdisciplinary collaboration. We want to encourage scholars who are not specialists in liturgical texts, but who have touched upon liturgy or believe that the liturgical texts could be useful for their own research, to participate in our network and to contribute to debates on methodological questions and on individual liturgical texts and their societal, political and ideological contexts and backgrounds.
The practical activities of the PSALM-Network will consist of international and interdisciplinary collaborations. This will be reflected in the organization of international workshops and conferences on liturgy and its political and social connections, which are intended to gather different scholars from various institutions, fields, and research traditions. Furthermore, we aim to sponsor annually several sessions at the international medieval congresses (such as the ICMS at Western Michigan University, and the IMC in Leeds) to promote our network and to reach a broader audience. Another important component of the PSALM-Network is to provide a platform through which participants do not only share and debate ideas but also through which participants share information on the source material and the library/archival resources that are essential for the field of liturgy (as most liturgical texts are not edited). Our website will be a valuable tool for all the scholars interested in research on the intersection of liturgy and politics and will connect them with each other more easily. Our long-term goal is to create a network in which groups of scholars find a platform to organize co-operations. We also strive to support and encourage scholars to gain funds from international and national funding organizations for projects focusing on the connection between liturgy and medieval societies.
We cordially invite all scholars interested in the political, social, and liturgical ecclesiastical history of the Middle Ages to join us.