The Significance of Purity/Impurity as an Internal or External Attribution in Medieval Christian-Islamic Relations

In the course of this project central conditions and parameters of the transformation process outlined above will be analyzed in detail. Even just by quickly skimming through the source texts available it is striking that a particular topic appears again and again in quite different contexts: the question of purity and pollution as a quality which is attributed to people, places and actions. From around the time of the millennium onwards - in connection with the church reform - it was possible to discern an increase in the importance of the concept of purity, which thus became relevant not just in terms of liturgy and cult but also more broadly as an intra-religious regulation of the relations between God, human beings and the world. An example of this development within the catholic church, apart from the generally contentious issues of church reform, are the Cistercians, especially with regard to their emphasis of puritas in accordance with the regulations of the Benedictine rule in a bid to return to the former "purity" of authoritative texts and an exemplary lifestyle. Moreover it is the significance of purity for the religious alternatives of that time - e.g. catharism - which can be a particularly useful gauge of an appreciation of this problem not just amongst a limited group of religious experts. Although historical studies over the past decades have noted these developments time and again, their reflections on the existence of interrelations remain a mere summary â€" if there is any consideration of this subject at all. This is where our research is going to start: Based on an examination of selected sources with regard to the church reform, the Peace of God movement and the beginning of the crusades from the early 11th to the late 12th century, we shall study the actual relevance of the issue of purity. Furthermore, in conjunction with this, the research will highlight possible interrelations concerning the question of purity and impurities in different contexts. Apart from the well-known accounts provided by the crusade chronicles and hagiographic works from this period, texts of Iberian origin will be looked at in particular.


There is a long tradition of research on the medieval Christian view of Islam and it has intensified even further lately due to recent developments in world politics. After a couple of fundamental studies (e.g. D'Alverny, Southern, Daniels), the hitherto lesser-known sources from the Iberian Peninsula have recently received close attention (Tolan, Burman). This is also where the present research starts. We do however intend to expand on the existing studies in several ways - firstly, by drawing attention to the importance of purity for Christianity and Islam in their respective delimitation and adaptation. The actual connection between alleged or actual pollution and the image of Islam has only been touched upon using examples from the crusade chronicles (Cole) and not in a monographic form. Secondly, the research aims to describe the role of the accusation of being impure within the development of a religious web of traditions, i.e. Christianity. This will be done by examining the transfer of results of inner developments as well as possible transfers between religions, generated through a process of dissociation. Thirdly, the research shall present less-established genres of texts and examine them in terms of their relevance to the key question. Where previous studies have concentrated on the evaluation of theoretical texts, this research shall try to consider historiographic texts, popular epics, songs and hagiographic literature as well. In particular by extending the field of research from seemingly historically real to fictional acts of pollution, this project will be in a position to concentrate methodically on questions of cultural anthropology, religious science and perception.

Affiliated Persons


Prof. Dr. Nikolas Jaspert

Project Leader

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