research unit for the study of medieval religious communities and communicative practices

Mission Statement

Scientific goals (version française)

The scientific goals of Conventus are three-fold:

To implement these three aims, the Network will rely both on traditional models of historical investigation and on interdisciplinary models inspired by recent trends in other disciplines of the Humanities.

Focus of research

Monastic practices of remembrance and the shaping of a collective past

The high medieval period was a period of political, economical, and intellectual transitions, causing deep insecurities with religious communities. In order to bring remedy to these problems, religious leaders re-defined the collective identity of their subjects through carefully steered processes of remembrance. On account of this, a significant part of our knowledge on history of these groups is severely compromised by the authorial agendas of high medieval historiographers, hagiographers and archivalists. Conventus will investigate how these authors have given their audience and subsequent generations formal and ideological access to the communal past.

Reforms and their social backgrounds

Reform movements such as that of Cluny, Brogne and that of the so-called "Lotharingian mixed observancy", but also smaller initiatives that were based on informal networks or confined to a single institution played a key role in the development of religious communal life. Various recent publications have suggested that research on reform and its implications that is based on traditional methods of investigation has reached a critical limit. It has also been argued that new breakthroughs in the study of reform and its impact on the social, economical and psychological aspects of communal life can only be achieved through comparative research and new approaches to the sources themselves. Conventus will look at two problems in particular. Firstly, there is the question of how to understand the impact of reform on the long-term development of religious communities. Secondly, there is the question to what extent reforms brought about discursive changes in the representation of religious communal life and in the management of communal memory.

The social embedding of religious communal life

The relation between religious communities and the outside world is one of the core themes of contemporary research. Two problems are of particular interest. Firstly, there is that of understanding the dynamics of the interaction between religious communities, themselves subject to important changes, and their highly changeable political and social networks. Secondly, the majority of sources that provide us with information on the social relations of religious groups were written from the exclusive perspective of these communities and present a biased vision of society. Conventus will foster the debate on these issues and bring together scholars specializing in their practical and theoretical aspects.

Communicative practises and the uses of written and non-written media.

Religious communities of the high Middle Ages relied on a wide range of media to implement their political, social, and other strategies. However the opportunities to study the complex interaction between the written word, its oral counterpart and other forms of non-written communication, including rituals and various forms of public behaviour are compromised by methodological problems. Conventus intends to foster the critical debate on the role of the written word in high medieval society and its potential reflect the complexity of religious' social strategies. In addition the researchers will also look at the strategic nature of communicative behavior in the demarcation of social boundaries. Although this has been a major topic of research in German and Anglo-Saxon scholarship, few studies on this subject have appeared for the richly-documented Southern Low Countries and Northern France.

Practical goals

Conventus has been created to coordinate research on the subjects described above, to provide a forum for debate and to create opportunities for collaboration and exchange with the international research community. In order to achieve these aims, Conversus will deploy the following activities:

Abstract in Dutch

De onderzoeksgemeenschap "Conventus. Problemen van het religieuze gemeenschapsleven in de hoge middeleeuwen" beoogt door middel van interuniversitaire en internationale samenwerking het onderzoek naar het religieuze gemeenschapsleven in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden en Noord-Frankrijk tussen c. 900 en c. 1200 te coördineren en het interdisciplinaire karakter ervan te stimuleren. Daarbij is het niet in eerste instantie de bedoeling de "feitelijke" geschiedenis van religieuze gemeenschappen te verkennen. Centraal staan het in vraag stellen van verworven inzichten in het bronnenmateriaal en het verkennen van nieuwe onderzoekspistes om meer inzicht te krijgen in de maatschappelijke, sociaal-economische, intellectuele en spirituele aspecten van het kloosterleven. Dankzij Conventus kunnen onderzoekers uit zeer uiteenlopende wetenschappelijke tradities hun onderzoeksresultaten op een gecoördineerde manier vergelijken en de toepasbaarheid van theoretische modellen uit de andere menswetenschappen op het bronnenmateriaal evalueren. Ten slotte moet de vergelijking met andere gebieden, perioden en onderzoekstradities leiden tot een grotere internationale zichtbaarheid van het onderzoek door Vlaamse onderzoekers over de rol van het monastieke en andere religieuze gemeenschapsleven in de middeleeuwse samenleving.