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Dependency in the Late-antique and Early Medieval Western Church

The project seeks to focus on both structures of dependency within the late antique and early medieval western Church (4th-8th centuries) and on similar structures linking the Church of this period with its surrounding societies. While overall hierarchies within the Church (e.g. Church offices) have largely been researched, these internal and external structures and levels of dependency have not gained much attention yet. The focus of research will thus be, on the one hand, on dependencies and inter-agencies between individual holders of office on the different tiers of Church hierarchy, and, on the other hand, on the external structures of dependency, i.e. in the interaction of Church clergy and members of society (both Christian laity and non-Christians). It is suggested that these dependency relations have contributed towards the growth of the Church’s social and political influence and economic power within late antique and early medieval societies.

While the traditional view on these power structures is based mainly on normative texts (such as canon or secular law, synodal decisions, church orders, or statements of doctrine) which represent idealized views of order within Church and society, the project aims at gaining insight into the praxeological dimensions of the said dependency structures. Including additional evidence (such as letters, sermons, liturgies, the lives of saints and bishops, charters, inscriptions, archeological findings, pagan and ecclesiastical histories, etc.) will allow for a closer approximation to social reality. The project will focus on the relationship between agents and dependants, studying a) the Church’s exercise of power through the tiers of its hierarchy (top-down), and b) its repercussions (bottom-up). The research project contains the following subfields: (1) agency and dependency among the clergy, (2) doctrinal norms and their implementation, (3) ethical norms and their implementation, (4) Church as social space, (5) Church jurisdiction, and secular governance, (6) the Church as economical agent.
Professor Dr Wolfram Kinzig, Dr Julia Winnebeck, and two PhD students will each carry out individual research projects contributing to a greater understanding of structures of dependency in the late antique and early medieval Western Church. All of these projects are part of the Bonn Cluster of Excellence „Beyond Slavery: Asymmetric Dependencies in pre-modern societies“.