Offre d’emploi – Medieval History: one doctoral position (4 years) within the FWO Senior Research Project ‘The Quest for Otherness. Uncovering Narratives of Religious Distinction in the ‘Long Tenth Century’

Deadline: 26 February 2020
Ghent University (Belgium) – Department of History

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One doctoral position (PhD studentship, doctoraatsbursaal) is available starting 1 May 2020 (with the possibility of a delayed start until 30 December) on an FWO-funded research project that pursues a new interpretation of religious distinction narratives in the period around the year 1000.

The eleventh century is commonly seen as the time when Western Christianity first drew strict moral and behavioral boundaries between the servants of the Church and the laity. Recent scholarship has indicated, though, that many ideas and solutions propagated then built on a legacy from up to two hundred years earlier. Crucially, the contribution of the ‘long tenth century’ (c. 880–1020/30) – a critical transition phase – remains for the most part unknown. While case studies have shown that commentators of this period were deeply preoccupied with the moral identity and conduct of ecclesiastical personnel in particular, a systematic investigation of surviving testimonies remains a major gap in religious and historical scholarship. In order to resolve this gap, the project will offer a detailed reconstruction of a large, regionally defined sample of narratives of religious distinction.

Supervised at the Ghent University by prof. dr. Steven Vanderputten, in a first part of the project the PhD researcher will work on a well-defined set of mostly narrative sources to establish how exactly tenth-century commentators described the separate moral and social status of clerics, monks, and women religious. The researcher will look at precisely which properties –in terms of physical appearance, social conduct, and morality generally– they attributed to the ideal member of each of these cohorts, and which ones they considered a cause for scandal. In addition, they will reconstruct the precise settings in which these authors situated their descriptions: did they give a literal account of the ‘stage play’ of the distinct morality of ecclesiastical personnel (for instance, by portraying appropriate behaviour as it was supposed to be displayed during liturgical and other ceremonies, secular feasts, public meetings, ceremonies, individual interactions with the laity, and interactions within religious communities), or did they instead speak mostly in abstract terms? Finally, the researcher will also seek to establish the specific purpose of these accounts of distinction, which was the intended audience, and if they were transmitted outside of their original context of origin. In case of the latter, were they adapted in any way?

In a second part, the PhD researcher will try to establish if specific narratives on religious distinction can be matched with specific political, institutional, intellectual, and personal networks. Similarities in the argument of a number of key texts suggest that this is the case. However, due to the limited attempts at comparative analysis and the slim body of studied evidence we currently have very little to validate – or invalidate – this impression. Nor has there been a systematic effort to consider either cross-pollination of ideas and narratives between different networks, or the internal differences of views within specific networks. A key point is the adaptation of religious distinction narratives when they were transferred from major institutional and intellectual centers to small communities of clerics, monks, or women religious. In other words, are there indications that local expectations (by the religious themselves and by their social environment) and traditions influenced the way in which these narratives were received by, and communicated to, the religious in these places?

The project’s innovative quality lies in the fact that it transcends the focus of former scholarship on specific commentators and their work. Not only will it undertake an unprecedented comparative study of known commentaries, it will also considerably expand the body of primary evidence by including a range of narrative texts that have so far remained beyond the specialists’ focus. As such, this project will award to the long tenth century the key place it deserves in the study of religious reflection and debate in the medieval West.

Ghent University was founded in 1817 and has approximately 40,000 students. It is consistently listed in the top 100 of the universities of Europe (see The University’s Department of History and Henri Pirenne Institute for Medieval Studies together form a dynamic and diverse research community covering a broad range of research interests and disciplines.


The successful candidate preferably has:

– A master’s degree (in hand or in progress) in Medieval History or in a related discipline (for individuals whose master’s degree is in progress, the doctoral position may only be taken up if that degree is successfully completed before the start of the project).
– Demonstrated experience with Latin sources.
– Demonstrated experience with qualitative research methods and a willingness to work towards acquiring new research skills.
– Demonstrated capacity for creative and independent research.
– Reading-knowledge of English and French and a willingness to acquire the necessary passive language skills to read German and Italian publications.
– The ability and willingness to work as a member of an international research community at Ghent University, including contributions to a shared database as well as joint publication.
– The ability and willingness to develop a publication track record of high academic standards.

Ghent University is a multi-lingual environment. Most official communication is done in Dutch and English: PhD researchers are welcome to publish and do conference presentations in any West European language, and may submit their dissertation in English, French, German, or Dutch. Candidates are not required to be able to read and/or speak Dutch prior to or during their appointment at Ghent University, but are encouraged to acquire basic language skills to facilitate social integration.


A doctoral position of 1 FTE for four years (i.e. a full-time position, subject to intermediary evaluations), beginning at the earliest on 1 July 2020 and at the latest on 30 December of the same year. The fellowship provides a monthly salary of ca. 1900 euros on a full-time basis, in concordance with the requirements of the Flemish Government. It is fiscally exempted and Ghent University offers a holiday allowance, gratis public transport between home and work place, access to university sports facilities and university restaurants, and end-of-year bonus. For more information, see

How to apply

Applications are to be sent as a pdf-file to Professor Steven Vanderputten (email: and must include the following elements:

– Motivation letter
– Curriculum Vitae, including an overview of language skills (active and passive); experience with Latin-sources; and PC-skills.
– A pdf-copy of the master dissertation or undergraduate dissertation (for those with a masters in progress).
– Certified copies of relevant diplomas.
– Contact details of two referees (name, institutional affiliation, and email address) and/or two letters of reference.
In the second stage of the application procedure, the selected candidates will be interviewed in person or via Skype.
Additional information
– A full project description is available here.
For more information, please contact Professor Steven Vanderputten (email:

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