CFP: [Medieval] Workshop on Inquisition and Confession in Medieval England

full name / name of organization: 
Mary C. Flannery
contact email: 

Inquisition and Confession in England after Lateran IV
Saturday 11 July 2009
Queen Mary College, University of London

Over the past thirty years, considerable scholarship has been produced on
the subject of confession in the Middle Ages, from Thomas N. Tentler’s
volume on Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation, to Peter Biller
and A. J. Minnis’s collection of essays entitled Handling Sin. Studies of
orthodox confession in late-medieval England (particularly in literary
contexts) have very often understood the importance of oral confession in
the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) to be the creation of a new
awareness and sense of self, and have focused predominantly on the private
discourse constructed between the priest and confessant (with some
important exceptions, such as Katherine C. Little’s recent book on Lollard
confession, which outlines a resistant model of public confession). A
closer examination of medieval pastoralia and confessional practices,
however, suggests the need to pay greater attention to the public,
communal, and resistant aspects of confession as well as to the nuanced
categories and stages that constitute or intersect with confession. It
therefore seems timely to reconsider the standard interpretations of
medieval confession and how confession itself was tied to broader
developments in medieval thought concerning pedagogy, legal practice,
philosophy, and science. One of the ways in which we might do this is by
considering the counterpart of confession: inquisition (a process which
both blurs with the process of confession itself and sits outside of it).
Apart from Peter Brooks’s work on confession (which does not have the
Middle Ages as its focus) and recent work by Dyan Elliot, few works have
considered the topic of inquisition alongside confession. Indeed, the
place of inquisition in England (for example, but not exclusively, in the
period immediately after Lateran IV until the emergence of the Lollard
heresy trials) has been somewhat overlooked, as has the idea of inquisition
outside of the context of heresy.

This is the scholarly gap that we seek to fill by convening a workshop to
consider the joint topics of inquisition and confession in England after
Lateran IV, with a view to producing a published collection of essays on
the subject. As has often been noted by historians of the Middle Ages,
England occupied a unique position in relation to ecclesiastical
developments in medieval Europe, being somewhat outside the immediate
influence of Rome and the continent. It is this position that will enable
us to take a wider view of the topics of inquisition and confession,
reading them not merely as part of a developing ‘Inquisition’, but as part
of a broader development in the medieval consciousness.

We would like to invite scholars with an interest in inquisition and/or
confession to submit one-page proposals for papers to be presented at the
planned workshop by 12 December 2008 to Mary Flannery
( or Katie Walter (
 Topics for proposed papers might include:

• pre- and post-Foucauldian historiography of confession and inquisition
• the intent behind both processes (including the extent to which the
attainment of ‘truth’ was seen as a goal)
• the language or discourse of inquisition and confession
• narratives of inquisition and confession
• the role and effect of torture in and on both processes (perhaps with
reference to such works as Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain)
• the role of the body in inquisition and confession, including the way in
which discourses of inquisition and confession take up the language of the
body (for example, medical and healing metaphors)
• inquisition and confession in the community (as tools of social rupture
or social repair)
• inquisition and confession and public reputation
• public and private concepts of confession and inquisition
• interrogation procedures
• confession and class
• artistic depictions of inquisition or confession
• the role of inquisition, confession, and punishment in the classroom
• the relationship of friars and preaching in England to confession and
• the relationship of inquisition and confession to the other canons of the
Fourth Lateran Council (e.g. with regard to trial by ordeal, etc).

If you have any queries, please contact either Katie Walter or Mary
Flannery at the email addresses above.

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Received on Tue Sep 09 2008 - 06:05:28 EDT