I am a scholar of late medieval intellectual, religious, cultural and literary history, and I work mostly on the German- and Dutch-speaking areas of Europe, but always considering them within a European framework. The challenge for me is the reconstruction of the intangible: the understanding of thought, opinion, and mentality in an age far removed from our own.
My book on Marquard von Lindau is an attempt to show that German intellectual culture and religious life in the period between the mid-fourteenth and the mid-fifteenth century was not stagnant and uninventive, but vibrant and genuinely radical. Marquard's name is totally unknown to a modern audience, but he was quite possibly the most widely read author in the German language before the Reformation. He is a measured, engaging, and interesting writer, with a genuine interest in those amongst whom he lived. I continue to write on Marquard, and have published a number of articles that explore different features of his work.
I am currently working on a long-term project to write the history of the literary spirituality of the upper Rhineland between the early fourteenth and the early sixteenth centuries, around the 'fixed point' of the convent zum Grünen Wörth (the 'Green Isle') in Strasbourg. This was founded in 1367 by a repentant merchant banker and noted mystical writer named Rulman Merswin, as a kind of lay monastery in which he, his wife, and their associates could shape the form of their own religious lives. It was associated four years later with the Order of St John of the Knights Hospitaller, and in the later Middle Ages became one of the most important centres for the transmission and production of literary texts in all of German-speaking Europe. In the existing scholarship these people get called the 'Friends of God', and understood as a kind of religious movement, but I am swiftly becoming ever more skeptical of this interpretation.
Many of my projects arise from the desire to know when, where, and how particular ideas were known, how those ideas circulated, and what contemporaries thought about them. Careful examination of medieval manuscripts is one way of getting at that kind of data, and much of my work is based on codicological work of this kind. I have also written in this vein on the European understanding of Islam in the later Middle Ages. The Islamic world was just as important for Europe in the Middle Ages as it is in the modern day. My interest lies in understanding exactly and precisely what was known and thought about Islam in different times and places in the medieval west, and how it came to be known. Not all of what was thought was as negative as one might expect. I have written a long article on this issue, starting with my old friend Marquard.