Institutionalization and Vita Religiosa. New Approaches towards the History of the Medieval Religious Orders
By Anne Müller
Journal of the Oxford University History Society, Vol.3 (2005)
Introduction: Viewed from our long-term perspective, the religious orders count doubtlessly among the most striking instances of successful continuity within the spectrum of medieval institutions. Thus, the organized religious life provides an instructive and illuminating case study to examine in greater detail how institutionalisation functions. In fact, studying the religious orders in terms of a theory of institutionalisation helps to explain how social institutions shape themselves and maintain their stability over the course of time and succeeding generations, thus giving answers to questions central to understanding any human formation. In 1997, the research project ‘Institutionelle Strukturen religiöser Orden im Mittelalter’ (‘Institutional Structures of Medieval Religious Orders’) was established under the direction of Professor Gert Melville at the University of Dresden. This project aims for a strictly comparative approach towards the history of religious orders as institutional formations. The historians involved include many students undertaking doctoral research; they analyze those institutional mechanics that guaranteed the proper and enduring transference of norms and ideals into practical religious life, effecting stability in the dialectic of intended continuity and actual change. In the following general insight, the aims and structure of our Dresden research project as well as some of the results reached so far will be given.