SPEAKER - Michael Barbezat

Dr Michael Barbezat

Dr Michael David Barbezat is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the ‘Meanings’ Program, focusing on  ‘Literature and Culture of War, Conflict, and Violence’ under Professor Andrew Lynch at The University of Western Australia. He received his BA in History and Classics from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois (2003). He earned his MA (Medieval History) from the University of California at Davis in 2006, and his PhD (Medieval Studies) from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 2013. His dissertation interrogated the experience of religious doubt and belief through a remarkable manuscript collection of visions and divine revelations collected by an Augustinian canon around the year 1200. This canon, named Peter of Cornwall, brought together accounts of the miraculous from the libraries and religious houses of southeastern England to prove the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. 

Dr Barbezat’s publications and research focus on connections between religious ideologies and conceptions of society, geography and identity, particularly in the fields of medieval historiography and literature. In his work, society, geography, human emotions and identity are repeatedly drawn together as the imaginative geographies of the afterlife and the sociopolitical geographies of medieval authors overlap in the course of their attempts to describe and explore their identities and their social positions. In particular, his work questions the role expectations of divine judgment played in medieval portrayals of non-European peoples and internal minority groups, providing the comparative context through which Western Christians viewed their own place in the wider world.

His current research project, ‘Burning Bodies: Community, Eschatology and Identity in the Middle Ages’, explores the role played by ideas of punishment in Hell and Purgatory in medieval ideas of community identity and the response to deviance and difference in the context of this identity. Dr Barbezat structures his inquiry around the image of both the saved and the damned as different types of burning bodies. The faithful, united to each other in the shared body of Christ on earth, burn with God’s love, often described as a fire. Non-Christians or ‘bad’ Christians, in contrast, burn individually in a literal, material fire in Hell. Meanwhile, the imperfect will burn with both the material flames of purgation and the fire of divine love. The study focuses upon accounts of burnings for the crimes of heresy and sodomy in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries and how the logic of individual and communal burning bodies informs the presentation of these punishments.

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