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The National Humanities Center Presents: "The Medieval Church as a School for Scandal"




5:00 PM


Dyan H. Elliott is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. A historian of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, her interests center around gender, spirituality, and sexuality and the way these three variables interact. She is especially intrigued by how the margins help to define the center of a given society.

Elliott's publications include Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (1993); Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages (1999); Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (2004; winner of the 2006 Otto Gründler Award); and The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200-1500 (2011). Her research has been supported by fellowships from the ACLS, the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the National Humanities Center, the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, and the Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities in Bogliasco.

A Fellow at the Center in 1997-98, Elliott returns this year as the first Kent R. Mullikin Fellow as she continues her work examining the concept of scandal and its practical and ideological consequences for church history.

The term "scandal" is derived from a Greek verb meaning "to cause another to stumble." An act need not be sinful to be considered scandalous: the salient attribute is its ability to occasion sin in another. But whether scandal was wrought by deliberate sin or a morally neutral act, it was an unmitigated evil from the perspective of the medieval church. This lecture examines how ecclesiastical efforts to suppress scandal created a climate of secrecy that was especially prejudicial to the laity. The modern church was heir to this tradition of concealment, rendering the recent spate of cover-ups more comprehensible.

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National Humanities Center
7 TW Alexander Drive
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709-2256