Mittlere und Neuere Kirchengeschichte

Trilaterale Forschungskonferenzen in der Villa Vigoni

DFG-Project: Trilateral Research Conferences in the Villa Vigoni: The Threatened Self—The Threat of the Other

In Germany, France, and Italy, an emotionally charged political debate is raging over questions of to what extent a foreign “Other” poses a threat to the European “Self” (consider, for example, Pegida, Charlie Hebdo, or Lampedusa). Religious aspects play an important role in these debates, in which “foreignness” is characterized among other things by fearful perceptions of fanaticized religions. While these problems materialize somewhat differently in each of these three European countries, all are faced with the question of how concepts of identity draw upon concepts of foreignness and how these are religiously and culturally charged.

While this problematic situation might seem new in its intensity, there is a long-standing history of conflict-ridden contact in which the religious dimensions were at times more prevalent and well-defined. In earlier eras, the tendency to veil scenarios of religious threat in political or economic terms was much less pronounced. This historical dimension is the focus of our trilateral research conferences in the Villa Vigoni.

Given that contemporary constellations of the communication of threats cannot be projected linearly onto the period from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century addressed here, the project aims to reconstruct interpretations of reality during this period. It examines how late medieval and early modern social groups explained the threats to their coexistence in a similar, perhaps more intense, fashion as an interaction not only of political, economic, and religious aspects but more generally as the result of immanent and transcendent factors. Because in their worldview, God and society were constantly interacting, every social threat was a threat to the divine and vice versa. In particular, two quite widespread literary genres with significant social and cultural influence gave expression to such conflicts: sermons and religious (liturgical) dramas

In the public spheres created by these performative texts, there are three marked threat scenarios in which the distinction between “the Self” and “the Other” and their corresponding religious associations in the intertwining of transcendence and society become especially evident. These include the broad themes of:

  1. “eternal damnation at the Last Judgment” for political and social deficiency;
  2. “Jewish conspiracies” from within; “Islamic expansion” from abroad; and
  3. “confessional condemnation” as the disintegration of “the Christian Occident.”

The methods historians use to analyze these sermons and liturgical dramas in order to generate systematic historical scholarship vary significantly among those countries participating in the research conferences. The proposed series of research conferences recognizes these differences and aims to:

  1. integrate the methods and perspectives developed by scholars who address primarily the history of religion, theater, and rhetoric;
  2. further the development of interdisciplinary and comparative tools of analysis and lenses for interpretation; and
  3. publish selected primary and secondary texts as models (editions and commentaries).