This research project thematizes reforms and their impact on the social embedding, self-image and social behaviour of monastic groups during the High Middle Ages (tenth-twelfth centuries). Parallel to, and to a large extent under the influence of the intense social, economic and spiritual changes that had an impact on the whole of contemporary society, the essence and goals of monastic life were constantly called into question. In response to these questions, several “reform movements” originated. Their principal aims were, on the one hand, to reassess monastic administration and economy and, on the other, conform the discipline and spiritual life of monks and nuns to the contemporary views on the monastic existence. Self- or otherwise imposed changes in the life-style of monastic communities, their relationships with the outside world, the management of the monastery as an economic and political institution, the intellectual and artistic production and other aspects form a recurrent theme in the history of these groups. In the Southern Low Countries, for instance, “waves” of reform occurred every two or three generations. Their aims, organization and practical implementation could, however, take on very different forms, depending on the social context.
Research in this project should result in a better understanding of the phenomenon of reforms and allow verification of the question whether it is still possible to use this term to designate the various phases of disciplinary or administrative change that took place in monastic communities. By establishing a typology of interventions usually designated as “reforms”, it will be possible to map out the social and group-related dynamics behind these processes. More importantly, however, is the insight which will be gained in the ways in which “reforms” thoroughly impacted not only the self-image of monastic groups, but also their composition and behaviour, and finally the ways in which the monastic environment and society as a whole have been represented in contemporary sources.