The Abbot as ‘Human Resource’ in the Medieval West, 9th–12th Centuries

15-12-2016 09:30 to 16-12-2016 12:00
Ghent, Het Pand (Onderbergen)
Steven Vanderputten
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medieval history, religious history, abbot, monks, high middle ages

Recent years have seen tremendous development in historical scholarship on the significance of monastic leadership, particularly that of so-called 'reformist' abbots, in the ninth- to twelfth-century West. One reason for this is that historians' view of the nature and consequences of reform' in this period has profoundly changed. Another relates to the fact that reform is now increasingly being considered as resulting from the interplay of multiple, monastic and non-monastic stakeholders. Finally, there is now increased awareness of how the discourse of biographical commentaries has shaped modern views of abbots' agency and motivations.

These three factors have yielded an approach that has moved away from regarding such monastic leaders as representatives of abstract 'reform movements', to looking at how they, as individuals, specifically contributed to the development of religious communities. Key to this trend in historical studies is the question of how Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of social, cultural and symbolic capital may be given a more central role in discussions of reformist leadership, and reform generally.

Bringing together international experts in the field, and relying on state of the art scholarship, this conference will seek to establish, for different regions and periods, how abbots contributed as 'human resources' to the development of reformed monastic communities. Speakers will address one or more of three approaches. The first looks at the direct contribution of abbots to the shaping of reformed realities; the second at their influence over future modes of leadership; and the third at the way in which later generations of monks relied upon the memory of their life and achievements to address current concerns.