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February 17, 2009

Provocative historian of the Middle Ages to speak at Stanford

Caroline Walker Bynum, a professor of European medieval history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, will be at Stanford Feb. 23-26 as the biennial Raymond Fred West Memorial Lecturer.

Carolyn Walker Bynum, who has been called a historian of feminist spirituality, will give two lectures and two seminars on Christian materiality. All events will be held at the Humanities Center.

The lectures are: "Weeping Statues and Bleeding Bread: Miracles in the Later Middle Ages" at 5 p.m. Feb. 23, and "Holy Pieces: Attitudes Toward Parts and Wholes in Late Medieval Devotion" at 5 p.m. Feb. 25.

The seminars are "The Presence of Objects: Medieval Anti-Judaism in Modern Germany" at 4 p.m. Feb. 24, and "Seeing and Seeing Beyond: The Mass of St. Gregory in the 15th Century" at 4 p.m. Feb. 26.

Bynum's pioneering and provocative scholarship analyzes the complex characteristics of medieval religiosity—for example, noticing "how bizarre they were from a modern perspective—bizarre in their intense physicality and eroticism." She has focused on the attitudes and assumptions of the medieval world—in particular, attitudes toward the body and identity. In doing so, she has turned conventional preconceptions on their head, particularly that the Middle Ages were "primitive."

"The most fundamental misconception among the general public is that the Middle Ages was a dark and bleak time characterized by rampant misogyny and therefore by an almost complete lack of—to use the current buzzword—female 'agency.' And also that Christianity was a vast rejection of the physical—that it was a dualistic religion—and everybody was sitting around sticking nails in their hands and flagellating themselves," she said in an interview a decade ago.

She is the author of several award-winning and controversial books, among them Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (1988), an exploration not only of food but of images of the body, physicality and bodily expression, and The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (1992), about death, dying and issues of identity. She explores gender images in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (1982). Her most recent book is Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Europe (2007), a study of blood piety in 15th-century northern Germany in its larger European context.



Cynthia Haven, News Service: (650) 724-6184,

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