Centre Project 2007-2010



The academic staff of the Centre

The project will be structured around five of the scholars presently affiliated with the Centre, including the Centre Leader, Prof. Schwab, and three of the present postdoctoral research fellows (now as senior research fellows). This group will be extended with a postdoctoral fellow, Biörn Tjällén (who was a member of the present Centre staff as a visiting doctoral student during the year 2004) and a doctoral student.

The Ph.D. stipend will be advertised soon.

The Extension Project:
Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals: Negotiating Normative Discourses

The present Centre project (2002–2007) is devoted to the interpretation of central aspects of European culture as elements of the heritage of ritual practices of the Medieval Latin Church. Medieval ritual practices and their theological underpinning are viewed as dynamic and constructive constituents and stimulants of a significant number of cultural practices of later ages.

In January 2007, a substantial body of research will have been carried out in terms of the seven subprojects of the present Centre project and more general discussions of their implications will be available in publication.

The proposed three-year extension is designed to develop the Centre project with regard to a narrower focus on a specific yet fundamental aspect of the complex historical processes studied so far. At issue will be the role of normative discourses in the historical processes of reception and construction through which the heritage of medieval ritual has come down to us. These will be studied in the context of the institutions which were responsible for the production and/or performances of medieval rituals and their modern descendants.

The title of the extension project reflects this redirection of focus to a set of phenomena which within the scope of the present project period has proved to be highly significant. The following is a revised edition of the application research plan adapted to the new format of the extension project.

Focus of the project:
What role do norms play in the construction of culture?
How is this played out in the fields of art and ritual?
How are these fields interconnected – directly, and over time?

The shift from a transcendental and essentialist view of norms to a constructivist understanding has made it possible to interpret norms, rules, and canon formations as interconnected with changes in world views, values, and socio-economic conditions. It is the ambition of the Centre project to pin down and examine dynamics of normative discourses and their negotiation in a specific context: Medieval rituals and their recontextualizations in the cultural history of Western Europe.

Focusing and developing the assumption underlying the Centre’s present project that there exists an intimate connection between the cultural heritage of medieval rituals and the modern art world, the extension project will address the character of this connection with particular regard to the role played by normative discourses and their developments from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern and the Modern period.

The normative ideas behind medieval and later rituals and their relations to the various arts involved in their execution are rarely articulated explicitly. Any such interconnections and the normative discourses underlying them have to be reconstructed from a vast range of at times fragmentary pieces of evidence. These concern the manner in which the events and artefacts of particular rituals were conceived of by their ‘authors’, perceived by participants and observers, and received as those rituals were re-enacted, transformed, and sometimes abolished over time.

The connections between these norms and the explicitly norm-governed discourses of the individual arts since the Renaissance call for further attention, as does the change of normative criteria since the eighteenth century and their crisis in the twentieth. Specific focus must be directed towards evidence concerning how art works are conceived by their authors, perceived by their addressees, and received as they are re-performed, re-read, re-observed, or forgotten over time as well as towards the establishment and ongoing cultivation and critique of a canon of European art.

The extension project is centred on a spectre of key-questions, addressed through the various subprojects. The terms conception, perception, and reception are central to the Centre’s discussion of ritual and aesthetic practices and traditions. They represent three different aspects of the dynamics at play in the formation of meaning in cultural productions and transformations. The authorial intention involved in the conception of a specific practice or artefact may be more or less explicitly accounted for or counted upon, but despite the trends towards declaring the “death of the author”, we believe a discussion either of rituals or of art will be insufficient without considering the intentions behind their conception.

But this conception should not be seen in isolation; not only is the sense we make of past artefacts and rituals dependent upon how they have been perceived in the circumstances in which they were presented or performed, and received in later days, but conception itself depends from the outset of similar processes: any meaningful human production depends on knowledge of previous use of similar actions or objects, and the rules for their use (Wittgenstein, Assmann; Ricoeur). Hence, in this respect, the question of normativity takes on a much broader meaning than just, e.g., a dogmatic or a codex for value judgements about art; its implications are basic for human thought and practise.

Rituals and communal identity between stability and contingency:

Both in a modern cultural context and a medieval ritual context, perceptions of practises and decisions about them involve considerations of the reasons why practises were established and how they were understood by responsible authorities or members of the communities in which they took place, or even by outsiders. Medieval church rituals are generally presented and interpreted as timeless and unchangeable manifestations of authoritative Christian theology and devotion. At the same time, however, they are influenced by both doctrinal discussions and conflicts and institutional as well as social contingencies. Two subprojects address the translations of the normative discourses associated with Medieval rituals into specific communal contexts (Mette Birkedal Bruun and Biörn Tjällén), thereby drawing on historiographical perspectives as well as anthropological theories on the function of rituals in communities.
Translations of ritual features into other discourses.

A recurrent theme within the Centre project is the ways in which medieval ritual features are translated into other discourses. This takes place on a synchronic medieval level, as in the communication of ritual features through sermons, either in preaching (Mette Birkedal Bruun) or in historiographical texts (Biörn Tjällén), and on a diachronic basis, for instance in the history of the oratorio from its basis in late-medieval and renaissance rituals to a concert genre (Nils Holger Petersen).

This dimension of the project focuses on recontextualizations of rituals and the changes of connotations and requirements that the ritual material undergoes in this process. When a liturgical ritual is expounded in a medieval sermon, it involves a translation of a performative act characterized by loftiness and sacrosanct alterity into a genre drawing heavily on the everyday experiences and common denominators of the audience owing to the demand on the preacher to communicate the normative implications of the ritual in a way which was immediately understandable.
As another example featuring a long-term change of discourse may be mentioned the mass. A medieval mass composition may be used to exemplify this kind of recontextualization, for instance a polyphonic musical setting of the ordinary of the mass. At the time of its composition and performance within a ritual context (the celebration of a mass) it would have been judged by at least two different types of criteria. On the one hand, it was assessed on the basis of criteria of musical craftsmanship, something which is now seen as stylistic traits of the time. On the other hand it was judged by general norms for the enactment of a mass celebration. Contemporary criteria for the function of the music as a part of a religious celebration may have depended on doctrinal ideas but not all conventions for such a celebration may be connected to specific doctrines. The norms at the time of the composition and original performance situation would also concern whether the music in its sensual qualities was deemed appropriate for the occasion for which it was to be performed.

In a nineteenth-century concert performance, however, interested listeners as well as music critics undoubtedly perceived the same mass composition in ways characterized by a set of rather different criteria. These would primarily be aesthetic criteria belonging to the institution of public concerts, criteria which would also have informed the perception of a nineteenth-century mass composition.

Normative conceptions in Aesthetic Discourse:
The example thus leads into another line of research within the extension project which is directly or indirectly concerned with the role of norms in the arts. During the eighteenth century, religious or universally based aesthetical norms were increasingly challenged by a general emphasis on autonomy and originality that came to the fore not only as an abstract notion but also in establishing standards for creative production. In music history, which will constitute the main focus of this part of the Centre research plan, this is manifested in the gradual establishing of a general idea of ‘absolute music’ from c. 1800 and more specifically in the perception of the symphony during the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century (and the breakdown of such ideas in Modernism). The extent to which specific formal features of artistic genres may be connected to more or less explicit general normative ideals will depend on the kind and force of normative thinking in any given period and requires investigation. The extension project will be concerned with questions about whether, how, and to what degree influential norms in artistic practices may be perceived as a heritage of norms at work in ritual medieval practices.

One part of the background for the perception of both earlier and later music is the understanding of appropriate historical stylistic criteria. In the example of the translation of the mass from church to concert hall, changing ideas of beauty would be relevant for the perception of both the early ritual and the later concert situation, but these ideas are contextualized in radically different ways philosophically and theologically. Through the reception of pseudo-Longinus’ treatise On the Sublime (περί ύψους) in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries, the idea of the sublime as a relevant norm for art works offered a completely new perspective from the later eighteenth century. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind the possibility that earlier criteria overlap with later ones. The broad perspective of the extension project is concerned with the examination of potential continuities between the norms involved in the early (liturgical/ritual) and the later (secular performance) situation.

Generally speaking, there is no clear-cut distinction between criteria connected to historical styles and other – more general – contemporary norms. The focus of the project is not stylistic criteria per se but the complex of criteria as they shape (and are shaped by) evolving practises and traditions. For the example of a medieval mass composition, the historical connections between the two indicated types of performance situations which have been established in traditional music history through the history of spiritual entertainments form the basis for a possible construction of a history of perceptions of such musical practises (in medieval and renaissance rituals, in spiritual entertainments and in the concert hall) as they evolved in time (see especially the subprojects of Eyolf Østrem, Heinrich W. Schwab and Nils Holger Petersen).

Perception and Aesthetics:

When we can talk about aesthetics today, it is because of a line of thought in renaissance and post-renaissance which tried to find a place for sensory experience with special reference to the cognition of beauty within the current epistemology, as a philosophical domain of its own right. With Alexander Baumgarten in the mid-eighteenth century, this quest found a concrete expression in the coining of the word aesthetics as the science of the senses. Through the work of Charles Batteux the scope was narrowed down to the fine arts, and with Immanuel Kant, the singling out of aesthetics as a separate branch of human cognition was confirmed, including a subjectivization of the aesthetical judgment, a development which has had to be reckoned with in all subsequent thought about art and aesthetics. In the context, Johann Gottfried Herder responded critically to this segregation, but confirmed the prominent position of the aesthetical by providing – as an alternative – an anthropological basis of artistic creation claiming art to be a central human activity: a key to the understanding of human culture.

The discourse on aesthetics around 1800 will be treated especially in the subprojects of Heinrich W. Schwab and Sven Rune Havsteen, whereas the later (modern) situation will come to the fore in Nils Holger Petersen’s subproject.

Exchange between aesthetic and theological discourses:

While normally expressed in completely different terms, a dichotomy between the individual and the general may also be seen to have been at work in medieval ritual contexts. The dichotomy of locality and universality in medieval liturgy is a point in case. The quest for new devotional practises and the amounts of individual theological interpretations of devotional practises throughout the Middle Ages and later, with a general recourse to religious doctrines considered to be universally valid, show that although perceptions of the ritual practises were radically different from views found in the later arts discourses, there are patterns and dichotomies which display similarities. These are to be explored in the project.

The emancipation of cultural practises from medieval ritual practises sometimes appears to be connected to contemporary conceptions of the efficacy of the arts to realize theologically conceived ritual demands. For instance, the development of techniques within the arts out of ritual concerns, in some cases seems to have brought about cultural practises of a wider scope, belonging to the modern arts. This may be argued for the gradual emergence of a practise of musical composition as an activity in its own right. The technology of music writing at its beginnings around 800 may primarily have been a tool for the propagation of greater liturgical authority and unity (ultimately based on the contemporary perception of the importance of music for the ritual efficacy) but in the course of the following centuries this technology also provided ensuing generations of monks, cantors, and composers with new possibilities for musical planning and control. For a long time this technology of music writing was to be used with respect to established liturgical norms but it also turned out to carry a potential for displaying individual creativity. In different periods of the project, the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, other connections between theologically conceived demands for poetic and musical support and later aesthetic ideas will be explored (see Eyolf Østrem’s and Sven Rune Havsteen’s subprojects).

In short, during the extension period, the Centre wants to shed new light on the historical perspectives examined in the present project period by focusing on the role of norms and normative discourses in the historical transformations involved in the formation of the cultural heritage of medieval rituals. This shift of focus aims at developing the insights offered by the present project. Focusing on the role of norms and normative discourse in the transformation of the medieval heritage of rituals will, we believe, offer a clarification with regard to the role of the arts in present day society by foregrounding processes of negotiation and translation of medieval rituals in the cultural history of the West.