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John Van Engen of Notre Dame to deliver Bainton Lecture

John Fan EngenJohn Van Engen, the Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, will deliver Yale Divinity School’s annual Bainton Lecture on Tuesday, Jan. 27 at Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, 409 Prospect St., on the topic Free Spirits, Harassed Beguines, and Arrogant Clerics: A New Look at Religious Communities in the Early Fourteenth-Century Low Countries. The lecture, free and open to the public, will be held at 5:15 p.m. in Niebuhr Hall, followed by a reception in the Sarah Smith Gallery.

The focus of Van Engen’s lecture will be on a large and overlooked work written in the vernacular (Middle Dutch), possibly by a woman, that sheds light on an early 14th century papal controversy.  That controversy involved papal legislation seeking to curb or close local communities of people committed to an extraordinary religious life—known generically as "beguines"—that expanded in large numbers between the 1220s and 1320s across the Low Countries and Rhineland Germany.  Until now this encounter has been told almost entirely through normative legislation or inquisitorial interventions.

Van Engen joined the faculty at Notre Dame in 1977 after receiving his Ph.D. at UCLA in 1976.  For twelve years (1986-98) he served as director of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute. He was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1993-94 and the fall of 1998, a fellow at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton University in 1999-2000, and a visiting professor at Harvard University in the fall of 2002. He is also a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and a corresponding member of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. In 2007 he served as president of the American Society of Church History.

Van Engen is an historian of religious and intellectual life in the European middle ages, concentrating on three areas: renewal during the twelfth century, “Christianization” in Medieval European history broadly, and religious movements in the later middle ages, especially the Devotio Moderna. His books and essays have dealt with monasticism, women’s writing, schools and universities, inquisition, canon law, notions of reform, and medieval religious culture generally.

His most recent publications include The Modern-Day Devout in the Later Middle Ages: Sisters and Brothers in Communal Life and Private Societies (2008); “Conclusion, Christendom c. 1100. On the Cusp of the Twelfth Century: Latin Christendom and the Kingdoms of the Christened,” in The Cambridge History of Early Medieval Christianity (2008); and Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life: The Devotio Moderna and the World of the Later Middle Ages (2008).

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