Making Sense of the Oath

Making Sense of the Oath lead image

Making Sense of the Oath in Late Antiquity and the Earlier Middle Ages: Religious Act, Social Bond, Holy Sacrament, Freie Universität Berlin, December 15–17, 2016

Oaths appear as an almost universal feature and an indispensable tool in societies both past and present. Their use in Christianity, however, can be characterized by a tension rooted in the fact that its founder had explicitly forbidden that oaths be sworn in the Sermon of the Mount. Despite or even contrary to this prohibition, the period between the 4th and the 11th centuries can be described as one of enormous diversification and spread in the use of oaths. This process generated a great deal of reflection and debates on the swearing of oaths, its permissiveness, its significance and meaning, and also its limits.

The conference seeks to investigate these reflections and debates on the oath. It will start from late antiquity, the period in which Christianity came to dominate the discourse on this topic, then focus on the 9th century, when several theologians began to regard the oath as a holy sacrament, and end with the eleventh century, two of whose major conflicts were centered around oath-taking: the Peace of God movement and the Investiture Controversy. In so doing, the conference aims to address several key topics:

  1. Between criticism and affirmation: the Christian oath as a religious act and the prohibition to swear in theology and exegesis
  2. The dangers of perjury: stipulation, reservation, cautiousness, and penance
  3. Uses of oaths in other religions and in interreligious communication
  4. Personal obligation and the creation of social bonds and legal trust: the oath and Christian concepts of promise, will and the ability to contract
  5. Holy obligation, the dissolution of oath bonds, and the right to resist: discourses of political theory centered around the oath
  6. Narrative justice: historiographical and hagiographical narratives constructed along the interplay between oath and perjury


Registration required.