Professor Kleinberg’s Workshop

Mixed Signals: Sanctity and Demonic Possession

11am-1 pm on September 16, Room 310, Centre for Medieval Studies, 125 Queen’s Park. The workshop is by registration only

The world created by Christian thinkers in the 12th and 13th centuries was a binary system where authorized experts were able to draw ontological and ethical lines. At least in theory, the demarcation lines between truth and falsehood, between the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith and unfaith (heresy and infidelity), between reason and superstition, between Us and Them were clearly drawn. Heresy was to be exposed and eradicated, infidelity clearly marked and put in its place, superstition denounced. But everyday life was, and is, more complex than intellectuals’ dreams. In previous studies I have dealt with the tensions inflicted on theory by practice, mostly in the medieval cult of the saints. My recently published book, The Sensual God, tries to go where the “ignorant many” could not be blamed for the cracks in the beautiful big picture: how were the tensions between the theologians’ perfect God and the many wrinkles and warts of the God of sacred tradition handled? How does sensuality threaten ineffability and what does one do when the logic of exclusion (either or) has to yield, often screaming and kicking, to a logic of inclusion (both A and non A)?

In the book’s last chapter, I have dealt with the sense of smell through an examination of a particular case-study—the demonic possession of Bd. Jordan of Saxony: can the same person be both pure and impure, godly and demonic? Jordan answers with a resounding “No”. In our workshop I would like to return to this text and add a famous Jewish “folk tale” describing a community of God-fearing, observant (Jewish) demons who are in many ways morally superior to their human counterparts. We will try to understand what God-fearing demons tell us about the virtues and vices of status ambiguity.