IMC 2008: Sessions

Session 1111: Concepts of the Self in the 11th and 12th Centuries

Wednesday 9 July 2008, 11.15-12.45

Organiser:Franz-Josef Arlinghaus, Instituts für Geschichte & historische Landesforschung, Hochschule Vechta
Moderator/Chair:Michael Clanchy, Institute of Historical Research, University of London
Paper 1111-aVoices of a Visionary: Elisabeth of Schönau, Ekbert of Schönau, and the Rhetorics of the Individual
(Language: English)
Sabine Schmolinsky, Seminar für Geschichtswissenschaft, Helmut Schmidt-Universität, Hamburg
Index terms: Gender Studies, Mentalities, Monasticism, Science
Paper 1111-bMurmur against God and Religious Doubt: Unwelcome Individual Experiences in the High and Late Middle Ages
(Language: English)
Dorothea Weltecke, Geschichtswissenschaftliche Sektion, Universität Konstanz
Index terms: Mentalities, Monasticism, Religious Life
Paper 1111-cAbelard, the Paraklet-Monastery, and Heloise: Individuality and Relationships in the 12th Century
(Language: English)
Franz-Josef Arlinghaus, Instituts für Geschichte & historische Landesforschung, Hochschule Vechta
Index terms: Gender Studies, Mentalities, Monasticism, Religious Life

The discussion about the medieval self has for a long time focussed on drawing a line between the presumed starting-point of individuality in the 12th century and modern individuality. While research has rightly shown that it is wrong to believe that medieval people were not aware or had ‘underdeveloped’ concepts of themselves, one could, on the other hand, question the strong teleological component of the discussion. Therefore, the session tries to focus on the differences and peculiarities of 12th-century individuality rather than on the similarities. One central aspect of these differences may be seen in the specific way people constructed their relationships to God and to others, and in the importance these relationships have as points of reference for the construction of individuality. The idea is that, while in terms of self-consciousness and self-awareness, we find a lot of similarities to modern concepts, in the way people relate themselves to others or to the world as a whole and the importance they attribute to such relations, the differences are striking.
Paper -a:
Who speaks? In the case of transmitting a visionary’s experience more than one voice will answer. Is there any voice which can be discerned as his or her personal one in a sense of self-referentiality? In which ways does self-referentiality relate to which concepts of an individual? These questions will be discussed with reference to the visionary Elisabeth of Schönau (1129-1164), one of the most widely read medieval mystics, and her brother Ekbert of Schönau.
Dissatisfaction with one’s own fate or with the unhappy state of the unjust world could raise questions about God’s goodness, his justice or his almighty power. These as well as religious doubts were often not treated as theological or philosophical problems (as Boethius or Leibniz had done), to be solved by theoretical thinking, but as personal experiences of uncertain quality. The largely unwelcome experiences bordered on sin, but they could at the same time be temptations by God himself to strengthen one’s spiritual abilities. As individual experiences they were discussed in practical theology and literature. Some examples will be discussed in the present paper.
That Abelard had a strong personality and was well aware of his intellect and talent is beyond dsipute. However, his ‘historia calamitatum’ and his letters to Heloise somehow differ from what we would consider autobiographical texts. But how? One key element, it seems, consists in the way he puts himself in relation to others (to Heloise and her monastery, but also to people he admires like Origen and Jerome. The paper tries to show that the way he describes these relationships, the way he relates himself to others and to the world around is decisive to understand the specifics of 12th century individuality.