The Routledge History of Medieval Christianity: 1050-1500

By Kramer, Susan R. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Routledge History of Medieval Christianity: 1050-1500


Kramer, Susan R., The Catholic Historical Review


The Routledge History of Medieval Christianity: 1050-1500. Edited by R. N. Swanson. [Routledge Histories.] (New York: Routledge. 2015. Pp. xxvi, 344. $205.00. ISBN 978-0-415-66014-3.)

As the spate of movies and television programs attests, the popular fascination with things medieval shows no signs of abating. A challenge for medievalists, especially those who teach, is to harness and educate this enthusiasm without diminishing it. Aptly, a goal of The Routledge History of Medieval Christianity: 1050-1500, edited by R. N. Swanson, is to present the history of medieval Christianity as a living discipline. The most thought-provoking essays in the volume highlight new research and show how strategies for studying Catholic Christianity continue to change.

Like other recent works tackling Christianity's history over a long span of time, the volume is the fruit of many hands. Twenty-two scholars produced the twenty-three essays and introductory overviews. Although neither the temporal nor the geographical framework for the volume is controversial,1 the introduction explains the chosen parameters; Western Europe from the mid-eleventh century to the Reformation shared a religious culture. It is this culture, as it "impacted on virtually every aspect of human existence" (p. xxi), which is the focus of the volume. Essays are arranged thematically, the choice and arrangement of themes reflecting the concern to adopt neither a top-down nor a two-tier model. Part One, "Structures," introduces the "organizational systems and mechanisms that allowed [Christianity] to function and gave it a kind of unity and coherence" (p. 1), including not only the chief personnel (papacy, clergy, and religious) but also administrative units (bishoprics and parishes.) With this skeleton in place, the following sections ("Forming the mindset," "Catholicism in practice," Challenges," and "Shaping Catholic society") provide the flesh. Through discussions of schooling, worship, pastoral care, ritual, material culture, law, heresy, gender, holy war, economic life, literature, and magic, the essays aim to depict Catholicism as "a vibrant and significant cultural force, whose influence reached into and helped to shape every individual existence across these four and a half centuries of Catholic Europe" (p. …

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