Michael D. Bailey, Miri Rubin, and Sean Field

Mar 31, 2021

Roundtable on Medieval Conspiracy Theories

New Books Network 2021

Join us today for a roundtable conversation with three leading medieval scholars about the phenomenon of conspiracy theories in history. 

Michael D. Bailey, professor of history at Iowa State University is one of the world’s leading scholars on the development of the idea of the Witches’ Sabbath, the verifiable hysterical historical panic about a gathering of diabolical witches joined together to dance with the devil himself in order to spread evil power, a nocturnal festival capable of destroying flora and fauna. 

Miri Rubin, professor of history at Queen Mary University of London, and translator of the first Blood Libel accusation in England, speaks on her historical forte: the dangerous, long-lived, and utterly spurious assertion that Jews ritually murder a Christian child to celebrate Passover. Emerging in medieval England and flourishing throughout the whole of the premodern era, the Blood Libel was responsible for another form or murderous hysteria.

Sean Field, a specialist on religious life in medieval France, speaks about the creation of mystery around the Templars. This is a different kind of conspiracy theory, that develops later around a specific and very real event. King Philip IV of France accused the Templars of a laundry list of spiritual and corporeal crimes; almost all the accused were entirely innocent. Though there was much furor contemporaneously, there was no belief that the Templars were involved in some sort of international secret financial skullduggery. Instead that modern balderdash developed much later and sticks with us. Our conversation covers the appeal of conspiracy theories, how they gain traction, and how they might be handled. Though our discussion is based in history it has strong repercussions for the current political and cultural situation.

Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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