Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Medieval Cluny, Christendom & Islam

01:090:297:02 Index #10530
Professor Stephen Reinert
Th 11:30 – 2:30 PM
Honors College Rm E128
College Avenue Campus

Will Count Towards SAS - History Major and Minor

Why spend a semester exploring the rise and fall, religious and social achievements, artistic and architectural legacies, and contemporary mystique of the Monastery of Cluny, located in Burgundy, in the heart of France? For those impressed by massive buildings, Cluny is fascinating first and foremost for its magnificent abbey church, which in its time was the largest Romanesque church in all of Christendom, and was decorated in magnificent style. But beyond this, there are five other credible reasons for embarking on this adventure. First, Cluny was not simply the custodian of a huge and beautiful church, but the headquarters of what became, at its height in the twelfth century, a monastic empire, with some 1400 dependencies scattered throughout Europe. How it evolved from rather humble beginnings to an incredibly successful “religious business enterprise” is a fascinating puzzle worth exploring. Second, as Cluny steadily achieved this organizational success it evolved as a “church within the church,” with its own distinctive life style and view of the world, the key features of which are quite surprising and often deeply foreign to the modern mind. Thus, for those interested in exploring medieval “mentalité and spirituality,” Cluny is a very special gold mine, a particularly crucial theme of which is its encounter with Islam. It was at Cluny, in the times of its eighth abbot Peter the Venerable, that the first Latin translation of the Qur’an was achieved. Why, you may ask, and whatever for? We’ll explore this in depth! Third, as intimated above, the architecture and art associated with the Cluniac order, particularly at its center, was among the best and most influential of the medieval period, surviving reflections of which are of stunning beauty. Fourth, since so much of Cluny was destroyed in the decade after 1789, recovering a secure knowledge and understanding of its “headquarters site” is a remarkable chapter of modern archaeology, a project in which Americans played a key role from 1928 through the 1950s. Finally, students will have the opportunity to follow up their semester’s classroom study with a twelve day field trip to France (May 15-26), encountering the ruins and remains first hand in Burgundy, and topping it all off with a few days in Paris contemplating the reflections of Cluny which still are to be found in “the city of light.”

As is typical of seminars, much of our spring classroom experience will consist of focused discussion on carefully selected primary and secondary readings. Students will be evaluated on the basis of their contributions (at least two reports) and participation throughout. In addition, all students will be required to work up a site report for a particular monument or cultural artifact connected with Cluny. Discussions of key themes will continue in France during our field trip, with an overall objective of understanding how Cluny, in twenty-first century Europe, constitutes a particularly treasured monument of cultural heritage, and cultural heritage preservation.

STEPHEN REINERT is an Associate Professor in the Rutgers New Brunswick History Department. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, specializing in Byzantine and western European medieval history, and additionally obtained a Master’s degree in Turcology. The courses he currently teaches include The Crusades, Dracula: Facts & Fictions, The Byzantine Empire, and seminars on encounters between Muslims and Christians in the medieval period. His research interests focus on medieval Christian perceptions of Islam, and the early Ottoman Empire in the reign of Bayezid I “The Thunderbolt” (1389-1402). His recent publications are Late Byzantine & Early Ottoman Studies (Ashgate, 2014), and an edited translation of Matei Cazacu’s Dracula (Brill, 2017). Since 1994, Reinert has spent his summers in Burgundy studying its medieval monuments, in particular those associated with the monastery of Cluny.