Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Narratives of the Holy Other in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity

Prof. Dr. Mireille Schnyder


Proceeding from the fundamental non-discursivity (and thus non-relativity) of the holy at the core of religion, this project poses the question of how the moment of the ineffable, constitutive for the holy, has been treated with respect to other religious cultures in medieval and early modern texts and images. The objective of the research is to describe through a finely-grained analysis of narrative procedures how various mechanisms of perception, recognition, valuation and definition of the religious Other are formed.

In addition to basic moments in narrative in which perception is constituted and observations are generated, the study will be directed toward rhetorical processes of integration versus alienation in narratives of the holy Other as well as ritualizations and performances of its narratological and medial aspects. A particular focus will be upon displacements in discourse boundaries, transgressions of genre limits, and the changes in reception contexts and their respective functions in contacts with the holiness of the Other.

The primary foundation of the study will be texts from the medieval vernacular literature, travel literature (pilgrims’ reports, travelogues, missionary and merchant literature), historiographical and cosmographical texts, tractates, sermons and encyclopedic texts.  The period of time to be treated extends from the 12th to the 16th century. Since the culture of images plays a prominent role in encounters with the holy, the project refers not only to linguistic narratives or texts but also to encounters with the phenomenon of the holy Other in images.

These studies will be closely linked with questions from discursive history, cultural theory and epistemology. It was not until the field of religious studies was constituted in close association with the early stages of psychoanalysis, anthropology and sociology in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century that phenomena of the religious were included in scientific discourse as understood in modernity. Here a unique discourse of the holy emerges; the question is whether basic narrative patterns and rhetorical structures can be found in which the potential of a pre-modern (precisely non-secularized and non-enlightened) encounter with holy Otherness have remained latent. The major boundary-setting narratives of modernity vis-à-vis cultures with different religious traditions (in the Islamic world, among others) would then have to be located in the early modern period in its emerging discourses of the Other and of other religions.