Sacred rules, secular revelations:the conceptions of rights in pre-modern Europe
Sortuz: Oñati journal of emergent socio-legal studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (2009)
Abstract: This paper is an attempt to reflect on the methodological approaches that I bring to ‘reading law’ in my current project on understandings of individual rights in the legal and theological texts of the twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Middle Ages, entitled ‘Sacred Rules, Secular Revelations: The Conceptions of Rights in Pre-Modern Europe’.
It is first necessary to say something about my own intellectual background, which informs the methodologies that I employ in this research. I am an historian and lawyer. Following my undergraduate training in law and history, I worked as a lawyer in private and in-house roles off and on for more than five years. In one of these ‘off’ periods, I completed my PhD in the discipline of history, although the subject matter of my thesis dealt with legal history, intellectual history, history of law, and the history of ideas. For a time I taught medieval history in Australia and the United States. In a subsequent, but not contiguous, ‘off’ period, I published this PhD thesis as a monograph. My current role is the third ‘off’ period from law practice: I am employed as a post-doctoral research fellow in the discipline of historical studies and as a tutor and lecturer in a faculty of law. The point of this brief biography is to emphasise my approach as that of an historian of law and ideas and of a lawyer, rather than that of a ‘legal historian’, with the narrower connotations that the latter term implies.
The project ‘Sacred Rules, Secular Revelations’ aims to explore the interaction between law and theology during the so-called ‘twelfth-century renaissance’, the period between approximately 1050 and 1250 when Western Europe experienced an intellectual, cultural, and social transformation that scholars liken to the later Italian Renaissance. It will focus particularly on perceptions of what we today might call ‘individual human rights’, but what medievals called something else, in the texts of lawyers and theologians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.