Information about the DFG Priority Programme

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Research Aims of the Priority Programme
Working Methods of the Priority Programme


Research Aims of the Priority Programme

The guiding idea of the Priority Programme is the presumption that Europe has never been made up of one monolithic culture. Thus, the programme rejects the widespread opinion that the European Middle Ages was characterised almost exclusively by only one culture, the Latin Christian culture. This opinion is clearly based on a contemporary and time-bound search of identity that fails in the face of the present complexity and is not able to cope with current and future challenges. Therefore, one purpose of the research programme is not to discover or even affirm a European identity at all, but rather to ask, in a strictly scientific way, for the dialectics of integrating and disintegrating processes. We believe that these contradicting processes, that have always conditioned one another and continuously alternated with each other, marked European history all along and made up its specific character.

A second presumption of the programme is based on the idea that it was the three monotheistic religions in particular - Christendom (whereupon is has to be differentiated between the Roman and the Orthodox Church), Islam and Judaism - which have characterised cultural formations ("civilizations"). The dialectics of unity and difference during the European Middle Ages are without any doubt the most obvious in the sphere of religions, which is understood as a cultural system according to Clifford Geertz. In contrast to other systems of this kind - politics, economics or law for example - religion was the aspect of culture in pre-modern times that most shaped the thinking, categorizing, acting and the imagination of the world of medieval men.

The monotheistic religions can be discerned as a factor of European integration of high importance. However, the integration of principally irreconcilable religions and cultures managed to create partial unities, though at no point could a complete European wholeness be established. Anywhere the compulsion to assimilation was exaggerated, new differences sprang up almost immediately. During the High Middle Ages, for example, the nascent Christian national monarchies of Western Europe or the papal centralism soon provoked the emergence of very successful and versatile heresies.

This diagnosis leads to a central matter of the Priority Programme: it aims to understand in which context religious contradictions led to further material differences and to oppositions in life-style, and where, on the other hand, similarities and a common ground were stronger than religious contrasts and contributed to the making of Europe.

Research projects that perceive the European unification as a historical phenomenon and one option of European history and not as the accomplishment of a linear, long-term and inevitable process may be able to show that an adamant policy of separation stands in opposition to the experiences Europeans made in the past. Therefore, the Priority Programme cannot rely on the tradition of national historiography and restrain itself to the agenda of medieval disciplines that work separately from each other. On the contrary, the Programme needs to apply interdisciplinary and transcultural approaches. This is accounted for by linking research projects that deal with the Occident, Byzantine or Russian orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam.

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Working Methods of the Priority Programme

The Priority Programme approaches the subject matter of integration and disintegration of civilizations in the European Middle Ages on three levels, which is reflected by the installation of three separate working sections. The first section investigates the perception of and the mental and intellectual confrontation with the other or stranger (Section A: "The Perception and Acceptance of Differences. The Identification of the Self, the Stranger and the Other in European History"). Section B deals with real encounters between individuals and/or groups and is titled "Dealing with Differences by means of Confrontation and Exchange, Assimilation and Changeover, Violence and Law". The third section goes beyond the history of relations between civilisations and asks, by the means of transcultural comparative studies, for the reasons of difference and the opportunities to overcome them. (Section C: "Transcultural Comparisons. Searching for Reasons of Agreement and Disagreement in the European Middle Ages").

The division of the research projects into three sections corresponds to the establishment of three study groups that meet regularly for workshops and discussions concerning research problems and methods. The interdisciplinary research results that will be obtained by permanent discussion and exchange between the researchers of different disciplines shall be published regularly in the proceedings of the Priority Programme. In order to exchange results and further information, all members of the Priority Programme have access to a multi-functional intranet.

In addition to the twenty-one research projects and three study groups, a plenum's meeting of all members of the Priority Programme takes place once a year. On this occasion, research results can be brought together and discussed on a larger scale in order to better link the projects and to improve the working methods of the study groups.

Moreover, the Priority Programme plans to organize conferences and summer schools regularly in order to discuss research results with international researchers and to establish contacts and cooperation with researchers at home and abroad. The first conference will take place from 25th to 27th September 2006 at Lorsch.


The Priority Programme defines itself as an experiment for transcultural medieval research, to which the disciplines, dealing with one specific civilization or region, may contribute. Tight collaboration shall allow the border crossing between the disciplines and contribute to the development of new methods for a multidisciplinary research project of medieval studies by integrating traditional working methods. The Programme aims to gain a better understanding of a pluralistic European Middle Ages through studies on the history of relations and comparative studies. The guiding question, the new cooperation forms and the dynamic of an intercultural approach shall transform the Priority Programme itself into a contact platform of European researchers and shall support the cooperation with other traditions of research abroad within the scope of the European Union and beyond.

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Last update: 01-May-2007