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The period between 400 and 1200 AD saw the emergence of new fundamental modes of identification in Europe. Firstly, strong religious identities took shape and became hegemonic over vast regions where Christian communities developed. And secondly, new kingdoms with ethnic denominations were formed, and the Roman Empire gave way to a pluralistic political landscape. Most ethnic designations for medieval and modern states in fact go back to that period. Both processes, not least through their interaction, created new forms of social cohesion, but also of conflict, and had a deep impact on European history up to this day that has not been sufficiently understood yet. Universal religion and ethnic/national particularism have always been regarded as opposite principles. But this is only part of the picture and other important aspects have so far been neglected. Thus the project is intended to look systematically at the ways in which religious and ethnic identities interacted, both as forms of discourse and as social practices.

In studying the early Middle Ages, the project addresses a period that has been neglected in debates about ethnicity and the rise of the nation. By choosing a long-term perspective, it attempts to historicize ethnicity and religion. This should be achieved by a double approach: careful source studies combined with methodological reflections to avoid modern projections; and comparison with areas beyond the frame of the project, for instance, the early Islamic World. The intention is not so much to study specific ethnic processes, but the cultural and social matrix that made them possible, and shaped them. Specifically, the project will concentrate on the ways in which the Bible inspired new discourses of identity and ethnicity, and in which the formation of Christian communities could enhance ethnic and political cohesion. Important political, affective and cognitive resources for the political role of ethnicity in European history were created in Late Antiquity and the early and high Middle Ages, c. 400–1200 AD. They provided a potential that could be used at different stages in European history, not least, in the development of the modern nation.


Univ. Prof. Dr. Walter Pohl


Universität Wien

Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 1
1010 Wien

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