Representations of the 'Other': Jews in Medieval England

NEH Summer Institute
13 July-16 August, 2014
Oxford, EnglandCover photo from Heinz Schreckenberg

Although in the early Middle Ages ‘otherness’ had largely been defined in terms of language, custom, law, or religion, by the fourteenth century other features emerge as the basis of group identity, creating a seemingly insurmountable obstacles to assimilation and acculturation. These new constructions of ‘otherness’ may help explain the deteriorating status of Jewish (and Muslim) communities in Europe, which led to the eventual expulsion from most lands in Christendom of those who refused baptism. Even baptism, however, could not wash away this newly established sense of difference: in Spain after 1492 Moriscos and Conversos (i.e. recent Muslim and Jewish converts to Christianity) remained under suspicion and were subject to discrimination under a series of statutes relating to purity of blood, perhaps anticipating modern racial conceptions.

This evolution of medieval European conceptions of ‘otherness’ and the various efforts of contemporary scholars to explain it will constitute the field of study for this institute. Treating the experience of Jews as paradigmatic, ‘otherness’ will be examined across a number of disciplines: history, philosophy, theology, canon law, literature, and art history.

"Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities"