The dynamics of apocryphal traditions in medieval religious culture
01 / 2008 - 12 / 2012
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
The relation between Christian traditions in and outside the canon is easily depicted as one of absolute opposition. There is the canon, containing authoritative truths, and there are the apocrypha, to which, because of their extra-canonical status, no authority is attributed. In reality, the opposition canon-apocrypha is much less black-and-white, not only in the modern period, where religious persons and movements define their own canon, but also in the Middle Ages. In the medieval period, apocrypha are treated in a very dynamic way. However, these dynamics are obfuscated by dominant modern perspectives on apocrypha. The project proposes a radical shift in the study of apocrypha, necessary to demonstrate the dynamic relation between canon and apocrypha in medieval Christianity. The treatment of apocrypha as isolated texts, dominant in present-day apocryphal studies, is abandoned in favour of a contextual cultural-historical and religious approach. The sources are no longer treated as passive bearers of information, but as generators of cultural change. The context in which apocrypha are transmitted, in textual and pictorial form, reveals the changes in function and status of these extra-canonical traditions. For instance, the representation of apocryphal traditions on prominent places in churches grants these apocrypha a significant role in the message the church propagates in times of foundation or reform. In the project, the focus is not on the sources for their own sake, but on the community that uses them. An important key to the socio-cultural context of the apocrypha is the language in which they are transmitted. Other questions concern the audiences of textual and pictorial transmissions of apocrypha. The results of this innovative approach to apocryphal traditions as indispensable components of the culture of medieval religious communities will influence other fields of Cultural Studies investigating the contribution of commemorative traditions to the formation of (religious) identity.