Following a year of planning, dozens of organisational meetings, and possibly hundreds of emails, the Cistercian Worlds conference finally took place on 1st and 2nd July 2021. Sponsored by the Centre for Medieval Studies – but held online for Covid-related reasons – Cistercian Worlds was a new Cistercian studies conference that aimed to bring together established and emerging scholars who study the medieval Cistercian Order. It sought to explore a series of inter-related questions: How did an initial shared Cistercian world-view and spirituality create many different Cistercian ‘worlds’? What were the boundaries – real or imagined – of these spheres? Who composed them? In which ways did they extend, shrink, overlap, and evolve? And what approaches can be used to study them?
Organised by myself and Jack Ford, a PhD student at UCL, the programme featured nearly 50 speakers across 20 sessions. The range of subjects was vast: Cistercian landscapes, rebellious monks, theological and philosophical treatises, classical and contemporary political influences on history writing, Cistercian views of outsiders, and rituals around dying and death, to name just a few! The speakers represented a range of disciplinary and theoretical positions, from manuscript and archival studies to art historical approaches to disability studies. Cistercian studies has always been a flourishing field, but Cistercian Worlds provided a venue for established and early career scholars who do not fit neatly into the mould of the traditional monastic historian – and may not study monastic history in a traditional way – to come together and share their research and ideas. Our international audience of over 250 registered attendees, who Zoomed in from at least four continents, also contributed greatly, often asking so many thoughtful and searching questions that sessions overran into the breaks!
In addition to the excellent programme of research papers, the Cistercian Worlds audience also enjoyed keynotes from Professors Emilia Jamroziak (University of Leeds) and Constant Mews (Monash University). Emilia Jamroziak started the conference off with a thoughtful, highly detailed and engaging overview of monastic and Cistercian historiography, and the different paradigms that have defined how we study the White Monks. Constant Mews began the second day with a talk that forced us to rethink the idea of a monastic–scholastic binary, and brought together Cistercian ideas about the soul with musical theories about plainchant. The conference ended with a roundtable discussion featuring Emilia Jamroziak, Janet Burton (University of Wales Trinity Saint David), Jesse Harrington (University of Cambridge), Amelia Kennedy (Graz University) and Martha Newman (University of Texas, Austin). The panellists discussed the range of topics and approaches that Cistercian Worlds had brought together, suggesting that it represents a new frontier in Cistercian studies, one that brings in new disciplinary approaches and theories, and integrates the Cistercians more firmly with wider medieval society and culture. Increasingly, it seems as though younger scholars are coming to the Cistercians via another aspect of medieval culture, thought or literature, and so the (metaphorical) scholarly walls around the Order seem to be crumbling. Even after hundreds of years of study and research, the
panelists concluded that there is life and new growth in Cistercian studies yet!
Many people have asked what is next for Cistercian Worlds? We are currently in the process of putting together a proposal for a special journal issue, so if everything goes to plan there may be a volume of the conference proceedings sometime in 2023 or 2024! And as for whether there will be a ‘Cistercian Worlds II: Return to Cîteaux’, or ‘Cistercian Worlds: 2 Cistercian 2 Worlds’ – watch this space!
Emmie Rose Price-Goodfellow, Medieval Studies PhD Student