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date: 03 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at medieval Christianity in contrast to other ‘world religions’, making the point however that how we conceive ‘religion’ and what we think it involves has itself been shaped by a medieval Christian legacy influencing subsequent scholarship. There are areas of considerable congruence: the practice of pilgrimage, the centrality (early on) of ‘holy men (and some women)’, and the intertwining of secular and spiritual authority at various points. There are also notable differences, for example the importance of bishops and clergy to Christianity and the comparative lack thereof in Islam. In the eleventh century, agrarian and commercial growth accelerated at an unprecedented pace in much of the Eurasian world, provoking considerable changes: notably, clerical elites, and with them high cultures, were renewed and reconstituted. By the thirteenth century, these elites had differentiated themselves in varying degrees from the rest of society, controlling access to cultural authority and power in various ways. This is a pattern we find in Europe, China, and the Islamic world; but with a particular intensity in western Europe.

Keywords: comparative religion, monasteries, pilgrimage, elites, texts, holy men, kinship

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