Networks of Knowledge: Communication, Society and Homiletic Writing in Anglo-Saxon England

Dr. Inka Moilanen
Historiska institutionen

This project examines the communication of social norms in the homilies and sermons written or used in England before 1100. Homiletic prose forms the biggest bulk of writing that we have from Anglo-Saxon England, and witnesses to the efforts of the church to explicate and interpret the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to lay society. As an activity to provide guidance for social behavior and morality on a grass-root level, preaching was intended to participate in creating and consolidating the ground rules in community and its social relationships. However, its workings are hard to decipher on account of the nature of our sources, which are often scarce and written from a one-sided, elitist and ecclesiastical point of view, making it difficult for us to evaluate their impact on the ‘real’ world.

One way to advance the understanding of the transmission of normative knowledge is to look at both the contents (the social-political thought of the sermons) and the material aspects (homiletic books as physical objects) of the homiletic corpus. To this end, the project pays attention to the discourse of the homiletic texts as they can be seen to have taken part in the negotiations of social order. The study of homiletic discourses enables us to determine the social and epistemological functions of texts that might initially seem too formulaic and schematic to offer any specific historical information. Instead, often conventional typologies, allegories and interpretations can be detected to have been used purposefully in a specific historical context.

In order to gain a more concrete understanding of the workings of homiletic discourse and its ideologies, the project surveys also its material aspects. It charts out the manuscripts which contain sermons or homilies that were either produced or used in England before 1100, at times travelling across and between England, the Continent and Scandinavia. It looks at the distribution and reception of these manuscripts, making an attempt to distinguish any communication networks – monastic or some other – in specific environments. Certain attention is given to the physical aspects of these books, in order to make a macro-level analysis of the proportions and the uses of homiletic manuscripts. It is also of interest to identify the textual contexts of homiletic literature: what kind of other texts were sermons and homilies associated with, whether the uses of Latin and vernacular writing can be seen to have served different purposes, and if any chronological developments can be discerned within this process. The texts are therefore examined as a part of a larger framework which the production, dissemination and use of homiletic manuscripts formed.

Bokmärk och dela