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Conference Devotio

Review of the Conference Devotio. Individualization of religious practices in Western European Christianity

 Nijmegen, 26-27 October 2016

On 26-27 October 2016, an international conference with the title Devotio: Individualization of Religious Practices in Western European Christianity (c. 1350- c. 1550) took place at Radboud University in Nijmegen. Its organizers – Johan Oosterman (Radboud University Nijmegen), Peter Nissen (Radboud University Nijmegen), Rijcklof Hofman (Titus Brandsma Institute Nijmegen), Charles Caspers (Titus Brandsma Institute Nijmegen) and Mathilde van Dijk (Instituut voor christelijk cultureel erfgoed, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) – had been able to assemble thirty contributors. They all approached one or more key aspects of late mediaeval religiosity: devotion, individualization, and / or religious practices, each from his own discipline (a.o. history, theology or literary history and criticism) or specialism (a.o. material culture, spirituality, Modern Devotion). The focus on precisely these aspects cannot come as a surprise for anyone acquainted with the long tradition of research into spirituality and the Modern Devotion in Nijmegen. At the same time, ‘Nijmegen’ offered the international scholarly community in the field of later mediaeval religiosity an opportunity to present itself in all its facets and with its most innovative research. Moreover, the aptly chosen Latin term ‘Devotio’ enabled all contributors to return to the late mediaeval perception of spirituality and religious practice itself, leaving behind the perhaps too broad Anglo-Saxon term ‘devotion’ and the obsolete Dutch notion ‘devotie’.

The three aspects (devotion, individualization, and religious practices) were dealt with in the three keynote lectures, as these elucidated late mediaeval devotional practice from the perspectives of history, literary history and manuscript studies: John van Engen (Notre Dame) on ‘Alijt Bake (1413-1455) of Utrecht and Gent: Self-conscious Author and Spiritual Autobiographer’; Nigel Palmer (Oxford) on ‘Anti-Seuse, or: Meditation on the whole life of Christ in the thirteenth and fourteenth century’; and Kate Rudy (St. Andrews) on ‘Semi-standardised books of hours that are afterwards personalised’. The remaining papers were intelligently and coherently grouped in sessions on ‘Individuals and individualism’, ‘Noble women’, ‘Lay piety’, ‘Modern Devotion’, ‘Material and mental images’, ‘Devotion in Germany on the threshold of the Reformation’, ‘Piety in songs’, ‘Theory of (the) devotion’, and ‘Spirituality’. Within these sessions, the contributors succeeded in approaching the three aspects within the main theme in mutual connection, each from his or her own field of expertise. Thus, Anne Bollmann (Groningen) addressed the topic of inner devotion of the individual in relation to the common ideal of devotion in female convents in the Modern Devotion. Natalija Ganina (Moscow) presented her research into the highly individualized scribal practices and the personally written and owned manuscripts of Katharina Ingolt, one of the Magdalene Sisters in Strasbourg. Thom Mertens (Antwerpen) and Dieuwke van der Poel (Utrecht) discussed the ‘exemplary ‘I’’ in devout song and prayer. Mikhail Khorkov (Erfurt and Moscow) presented a philosophical-theological analysis of the individual approach to meditative and contemplative practices in the Carthusian monastery in Erfurt. Rob Faesen (Leuven) expounded the differences between individualization and personalization on the basis of the legacy of a number of late mediaeval mystical authors. And Piotr Bialecki (Warsaw) addressed the choice for a personal confessor in late mediaeval Florence in the session on lay piety.

During and in between sessions there was ample opportunity to share views and convictions, for interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and for attempts to get (more intimately) acquainted with one another. During the plenary sessions two books were launched. The Rector Magnificus of Radboud University, Han van Krieken, and professor John van Engen (Notre Dame) received first copies of Rijcklof Hofman’s (Nijmegen) edition of Geert Grote’s treatises against simony and proprietarism (Gerardi Magni Opera omnia II,2), handed over by Luc Jocqué, general editor of the renowned series Corpus Christianorum. A first copy of Piety in Pieces: How Medieval Readers Customized their Manuscripts, written by Kathryn Rudy (St. Andrews), and published by OpenBook Publishers, was offered to professor Nigel Palmer (Oxford) on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

At least part of the papers presented during the conference will be published. It should not be ruled out that both Conference and Proceedings will turn out to be a substantial drive towards a ‘devotional turn’ in the study of religiosity in the later Middle Ages. In this manner, the implications of the Modern Devotion for Western spirituality and society will again be highlighted. In addition, old categories which are of vital importance for it (devotion, piety and virtues) will be studied in greater depth. Neither should it be ruled out that this conference, with its focus on the theme of devotion and individual religious practices in the later Middle Ages, will have its academic impact on the overall theme of religiosity. In this light it is important to note that this utterly inspiring conference coincided with the opening of the brand-new Amsterdam Centre for Religious History.

The Dutch report of the conference has pictures!


Pre-conference Information:

Revised versions (2016-10-24):

Programme Devotio Individualization of Religious Practices in Western European Christianity (PDF)

Conference Booklet Devotio. Individualization of religious practices in Western European Christianity (PDF)

Radboud University Nijmegen – Titus Brandsma Instituut, Nijmegen – Instituut voor christelijk cultureel erfgoed, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (NL)



Individualization of religious practices in Western European Christianity

(c. 1350 – c. 1550)

Nijmegen, Wednesday, 26 – Thursday, 27 October 2016


Apologies that no Dutch is used in this message


Theme of the Conference

Religiosity was ubiquitous during the later Middle Ages. Divine services influenced both the public domain and the course of each individual’s life, and thus established a widely experienced communality. Individual believers, however, had ample opportunities to develop a highly personalized devotion, side by side with, and sometimes even slightly detached from official doctrine. Their creativity and the diversity of their inner beliefs are the main focus of this conference.

The transmitted source material is perhaps as diverse as the many forms of personal devotion, and meditational literature and prayer books are on closer inspection often highly individualized products, sometimes sizeable compositions demonstrating personal choices and convictions, and testifying to inner development as well as interchanged experiences.

Recent historiography has pointed at this individualization of Western Christianity in the later Middle Ages, and focused on the preponderance of personal devotion at the cost of shared religious practices. Thus, representatives of the Modern Devotion especially propagated that the quality of religious life was determined no less by personal, inner devotion in one’s own heart than by shared liturgy. Thomas a Kempis, for instance, emphasizes the importance of an intense, and personal, desire for God. Who lacks this, ‘must long for this desire’ (Imitation of Christ, III, 14, 8).

Individualization inevitably resulted in greater diversity of religious life, but did not automatically lead to too much divergence. Religious communities, but lay groups also, discussed about beliefs and practices, sometimes very candidly. They could disagree, but nevertheless did not loose touch of one another. This conference aims to establish how individual believers were not only children of their age, but shaped this age as well.


Organising committee

Prof. dr. Johan Oosterman (Radboud University Nijmegen), Prof. dr. Peter Nissen (Radboud University Nijmegen), dr. Rijcklof Hofman (Titus Brandsma Institute), dr. Charles Caspers (Titus Brandsma Institute), dr. Mathilde van Dijk (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen).



A revised version of the provisional programme for this venue is now on-line at the link above. Here you can also find abstracts of the submitted papers; this may hopefully facilitate your choices when parallel sessions are planned.



On the morning of 26 October, friendly and understanding local hosts will welcome you from 9.00 h. onwards, in front of the lecture room where the first plenary session will take place. This is CC5, which is the abbreviation for Collegezalencomplex, Lecture Room 5.

You’ll find this on this map:


by turning from the roundabout which connects Erasmuslaan and Heyendaalseweg to the West (= left), and then turning left after the second blue bus, into Mercatorpad, then Max Weberpad, where you must open the door on your left-hand side. When you click with your mouse on the red star on this map, you’ll get an aerial photo of this building. For further information on Radboud University Nijmegen please consult the information guide: http://www.ru.nl/english/@698777/ects_guide/ ; those with somewhat more spare time can also watch this short film: http://www.ru.nl/huisstijl/presentatiemiddelen/corporate-film/


Travel to the conference venue

Earlier that same morning, you must try to get to this lecture room. The following website will prove to be very helpful for this:




On your programme, you’ll find other cryptic abbreviations also. Sessions in E 2.53; 2.54; 2.55 (Wednesday / Thursday afternoon) take place in the smaller lecture rooms just over the University restaurant ‘Refter’, which can be approached through the main entrance Erasmusplein 1, the 20-story flat. You’ll undoubtedly have hardly any trouble in localizing Erasmusplein just to the right of the ‘Collegezalencomplex’ on the same map. Sessions in TvA 2 take place on the ground floor in Thomas van Aquinostraat 2, the building just to the West (left) of the Collegezalencomplex, which you can most easily access through the door next to the copy shop.


Food supply

Both lunches take place in the restaurant ‘Refter (lit.: ‘refectory’, esp. in a monastery’); the Conference dinner will take place in Restaurant BEAU, Driehuizerweg 285, NL 6525 PL Nijmegen, T: 024-3553949, W: www.restaurant-beau.nl You’ll find this agreeable restaurant on the map by moving to the East (right) through the Gymnasion (sports facilities) to the Driehuizerweg. Just to the right of the blue ‘P’ is a small yellow cube (square), situated in a stunningly beautiful park, originally the hunting grounds of the Jurgens family, in the last century the private owners of the multinational food giant Unilever. The walking distance to this restaurant from the University campus is 10 minutes; experienced walkers used to strolls with their dog can perhaps bridge this distance in even less time.


Payment of the Conference fee

The conference fee should before 15 October 2016 be transferred to this bank account: IBAN: NL62INGB0002333985, Account name: Stg. KU –Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen FDL, Postbus 9103, 6500 HD NIJMEGEN, Netherlands. It is vital that the following specification is mentioned in the transfer: verbijzondering (2380493) (congres Devotio). Omission of this specification implies that your money will loose its way in the financial administration’s maze!

Registration includes coffee/tea breaks, and lunch on Wednesday as well as Thursday. Attendance to the conference dinner on Wednesday evening implies full fee, a discount is offered to those who decide not to join in at this dinner.


The following fees are possible:

– attendance of the Conference, including Conference dinner: € 70 for senior researchers, € 40 for junior researchers and students. Members of NOSTER can decide to attend free of charge, but they must communicate this to Rijcklof Hofman (see below).

– attendance of the Conference, excluding Conference dinner: € 40 for senior researchers, € 25 for junior researchers and students.


All those wishing to attend should concurrently with the money transfer at the same time confirm their particpation, by mailing to Rijcklof Hofman, and by adding whether (or not) they wish to attend to the Conference dinner:


Registration for this conference is still possible, late vocations should follow the same procedure, as outlined above.



As mentioned before already, much information on arriving at and journeying in Nijmegen can be found here: http://www.ru.nl/english/about-us/contact/how-get/

As regards travel, train services between Nijmegen and Schiphol are excellent, with direct trains every 30 minutes (and trains with transfer in Utrecht twice an hour also, usually at the other side of the same platform, each time 15 min. later); for the day of your expected arrival, you can fill in a possible time on this site (this site has an option to change to English above right):


for the journey from Nijmegen back to your usual place of residence it is possible to choose ‘return journey’, changing the date. If this link does not come through as I hope, you can plan your journey yourself here, with the same option to change to English above right:


Another possible airport is Weeze, at the German side of the border


with regular shuttle bus services to Nijmegen.

In the Netherlands, we have – apart from more expensive normal tickets as available everywhere else in the world – a peculiarly idiosyncratic way of paying for your travel, the so called ‘ov-chipkaart’. This involves purchasing a plastic card (costs: € 7,50, available at all railway stations including Schiphol station), on which a balance must then be uploaded; € 60,- for your stay in the Netherlands should do, but a refund is unfortunately not possible. More information about this bizarre service can be found here: https://www.ov-chipkaart.nl/home-1.htm .

As mentioned earlier on already, many visitors to Conferences in Nijmegen feel at ease in this hotel (do not forget to ask for the special rates for scholars visiting Radboud University!):


other accommodation is easily found through booking.com, where I noticed again the usual lies about limited availability:

Booking.com search results for ‘Nijmegen’