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Emotion and Devotion

Miri Rubin


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  • 1 “Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion,” in The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medie (...)

1I remember very clearly the day on which I was introduced to Natalie Davis’s work. It was 1977 and I was an MA student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Society and Culture in Early Modern France was only a few months old. So great was the desire of teachers and students to read it, that the imported volume was guarded in a locked room behind the History librarian’s chair, a cubicle ominously known as the cage—hakluv. Everything about the essays in that volume fulfilled the promise of an article she had written a few years earlier, “Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion.”1 The concepts and historical questions which Natalie Davis set out so eloquently in 1974—gender, popular politics, rituals of violence—still form a challenging framework for research on the religious cultures of Europe. The article’s title has helped me to frame this series of lectures which forms part of the celebration in history of a most beloved and revered historian here at Central European University. In that spirit, and based on my work towards a cultural history of the figure of the Virgin Mary, I offer this book which contains somewhat revised versions of the three Natalie Zemon Davis Lectures of 2007. The first chapter—The Global “Middle Ages”—considers the historiographical frame for the study of religious cultures and suggests ways in which we may make our practice more global. The second chapter—Mary, and Others—examines the polemical situations around Mary, and the location of Muslims and Jews within them. The third, and last, chapter—Emotions and Selves—will track the sentimental education experienced by Europeans through devotional encounters with the figure of the Virgin Mary in word, image and sound.

2This book has been inspired by the example of another historian, Gábor Klaniczay, whose leadership has helped shape the vision of history practised at the Central European University. With deep erudition and fertile imagination he has explored unknown terrains of European religious experience. He has imbued medieval studies with the passions that animate his life as a foremost public intellectual. These lectures owe a great deal to him, as they do to the generous collegiality of István Perczel, István Rév, Marianne Sághy and to illuminating conversations with György Geréby and to other colleagues too. I am also grateful to Dr. Camilla Russell and Ms. Kati Ihnat for commenting on this work. Linda Kunos of CEU Press has been most helpful and efficient in bringing these lectures to press.


1 “Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion,” in The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion, ed. Charles Trinkaus and Heiko A. Oberman, Leiden, 1974, pp. 307–36.

© Central European University Press, 2009

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