The papers in this session explore the heretical and other faith communities in the emergent exoticist and orientalist discourses of the Middle Ages.
This paper addresses the puzzling question of why Judaism is presented as a monstrous form of heresy in Mandeville’s travel narrative, while races and religions which one would expect him to find equally, if not more, monstrous and heretical are treated with tolerance. In essence, throughout the narrative Judaism is depicted exclusively in relationship Christianity, while other races, sects, and religions are presented on their own terms. Therefore, Judaism arouses horror and disgust in the narrator, while, for example, a race described as having feet growing out of their heads is presented as being within the realm of the normative in a world which encompasses many forms of otherness. In its broader scope, the paper seeks to increase our understanding of the concept of ‘normativity’ in late medieval society.
Centuries before their more familiar association with the early modern witch craze, cats were sometimes regarded as symbols of suspect religious (and wider social) behaviour. Where they were represented as deviant animals, cats were particularly connected with heretics and idolaters in the high middle ages. In iconography one finds representations of cats in the context of demonology and devil-worship, or as the idol allegedly worshipped by Waldensians, Cathars, or the Templars. The paper will trace the origins of using cat symbolism in the denunciations of heretics, as well as examining some possible backgrounds for these beliefs in notions about cats in medieval natural philosophy and science.
In the account of his journey to the Mongol capital at Karakorum, the Franciscan William of Rubruck describes both competing Christian sects and other faiths in great detail. This paper examines the language used by Rubruck to describe Nestorian and Armenian Christians, Saracens, Mongols, and Idolaters, and relates those descriptions to 13th-century Latin writing about heresy, sin, and orthodox practice. In doing so, it explores William of Rubruck’s variable use of sin and heresy to frame the descriptions of rivals and potential opponents to the Latin church.