Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Christianity: A New History

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Christianity: A New History

Article excerpt

MEDIEVAL

Medieval Christianity: A New History. By Kevin Madigan. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2015. Pp. xxiv, 487. $40.00. ISBN 978-0-300-1587-24.

Over the last fifty years or so, the study of medieval Christianity has broadened considerably beyond strictly institutional or theological approaches to include studies of parochial religion, mysticism, and heresy. In recent years scholars have endeavored to uncover the beliefs and religious practices of the ordinary laity and the extent to which clerical elites and laypeople were part of a shared religious culture. Contemporary concerns, too, have raised new questions and inspired interest in religious dissidents, interfaith relationships, and the role of women in medieval Christianity, resulting in a stream of publications on communities and groups that are rarely, if ever, considered in more traditional histories.

Given the explosion of scholarly interest in medieval religion and the recognition of its importance for understanding medieval history in general, Kevin Madigan's book, Medieval Christianity: A New History fulfills an evident need for a new synthesis. Noting that the last major synthesis was Richard Southern's Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmonsworth, UK,1970), Madigan's stated goal is to provide a new survey for undergraduate students with little to no knowledge of the topic or time period. Defining "medieval Christianity" broadly, the author presents a narrative history of Western Christendom that integrates the research of the last several decades, particularly studies on mysticism, lay religion, and parish life.

In all of these objectives, Madigan succeeds admirably. Well written and broadly accessible, this book would indeed serve as a useful textbook in courses on the history of Christianity. The chapters are well organized, highly focused, and provide broad coverage of major historical developments while addressing historiographical debates in a fluid, engaging manner with plenty of clear, illustrative examples. As Madigan suggests in the introduction, these debates-presented throughout the book with a light, engaging touch-could serve as research topics in undergraduate courses. Madigan helpfully provides bibliographical information for each chapter in the notes section at the end of the book as well as a glossary of relevant terms. …

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