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Comparing Medieval Institutions: A Few Introductory Remarks

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores differences, and explains divergences in historical trajectories, by focusing on institutions. Some of the advantages of the focus on institutions would be familiar to any practitioner of the craft of history. Most importantly, it imposes a few useful limitations, a few simple "hands off rules" for comparative historical research: No summary invocations of "culture" as a summary explanation of differences between historical, differentiated societies, not even of culture's older sister, "religion": Mediterranean mentality, Western culture, Islam and Christianity would not do. Some of the most enlightening exercises in historical comparison to be found in the next pages are played out far below the level of received oppositions between "Islam" and "Christianity", but in cases where, within the broad framework of a common faith, doctrinal traditions, religious practices and specific configurations of political power and religious authority go a long way toward explaining observed differences.

Keywords: Christianity; hand off rules; historical trajectories; Islam; medieval institutions; Mediterranean mentality; religious authority; Western culture



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