Beyond the Elite: From Texts to Societies in Medieval European Culture

Event date: February 23 - February 26, 2015

    Baumgarten Elisheva (The Hebrew University)
    Galinsky Judah (Bar Ilan University)


    A basic problem confronting scholars of medieval society in northern Europe, especially those studying its Jewish communities, is that the overwhelming majority of extant texts emerged from a discrete segment of society, the intellectual elite. The challenge for those interested in medieval society as a whole is how to move our focus from the upper echelons to the wider social strata, which comprised its majority, in an effort to understand their lives, beliefs and ideals. Admittedly, some transmitted sources reflect society at large, whereas others represent only their authors' close circle. This distinction, like those between “clergy” and “laity” or between “popular” and “learned,” is complex and complicates research efforts. This issue, which has been addressed to a certain extent by scholars of Christian societies, is now becoming more central to research on medieval Jewish societies.

    Our workshop will consider the two broad approaches have been applied to overcome these obstacles: 1) searching for new or previously overlooked sources that may more accurately convey the mores of the less educated members of society; and, 2) devising new methods and strategies that enable “learned” texts to reveal information about broader social realities.

    We will present diverse methods that may be applied to a range of genres and sources. This workshop aims to further the scholarly discussion of the methods and sources that can expand our knowledge of medieval life, particularly to identify the beliefs, ideals and cultural expressions that bound medieval society, Jews and Christians alike, together.