Background to the project

Rethinking Reform 900-1150 examines how religious change was conceptualised by looking at institutional change in the western European church across a broad time span. The project includes consideration of major issues such as:

  • monasticism
  • the clergy
  • papal government
  • canon law
  • gender

It also explores how historians and commentators have shaped the subject in post-Reformation times.

Profound institutional changes occurred in the western medieval church between 900 and 1150.  Religious change was a key factor in social and political change, affecting all aspects of power and authority, and more widely contributing to significant transformations in intellectual and cultural activity; the question of how the ideas behind these developments were understood by contemporaries is an important one.

 Religious change 900-1150 has routinely been characterised as ‘reform’ by historians since the nineteenth century, but this term was little used at the time, especially before c.1100. Recent work by numerous historians across Northern Europe (see Vanderputten, MeijnsRosé, Barrow, Cubitt, and Tinti) has undermined powerful nineteenth and twentieth-century grand narratives of reform (see Guizot, Michelet, Fliche and Hallinger). These contemporary, localised studies of reform reveal a micro-landscape of religious change, loosely linked by personal networks. They challenge the narrative of reform by questioning the top-down nature of traditional interpretation and its emphasis on progress.

Bridging the gap created by the national boundaries that separate this range of recent research, the project proposes a more nuanced understanding by bringing together localised studies. Now that national grand narratives have been dismantled into more regionally specific histories, there is scope for investigating international connections. Dialogue between scholars across different traditions is essential for this.

By assembling an international network of scholars to address these issues Rethinking Reform 900-1150 seeks to present a wide-ranging picture of the religious movements shaping the western church in the Middle Ages.

Key project aims

  • To examine how religious change was conceptualised between 900-1150 by analysing the language used and the development of medieval narratives.
  • To explore regional variation and routes of transmission of ideas of change across Europe. We intend to examine geographical diversity by bringing different regional stories into dialogue with each other.
  • To open up debate on when the idea of framing the history of the medieval church in terms of reform originated, and why the ‘reform’ framework came to dominate historical thinking.
  • To produce two volumes of collected papers, one of them a ‘Companion’ volume to open up the subject to a new general readership.