This research project attempts to analyze the patterns of relationship between various religious groups in Europe and the Mediterranean world in the medieval and early modern periods, from a new perspective of socio-cultural history going beyond the conventional church and doctrinal history. It covers a wide space which extends from England and Ireland, across France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, to the Middle East under the Ottoman rule, with the aim of constructing a comparative or “connected” history beyond the narrow framework of national histories. By comparing the complex reality of acceptance and exclusion of the religious “other,” we intend to elucidate the common mechanism of conflict and reconciliation which works among different religions and confessions.
It is essential, to this end, to examine the problem of the otherness not only from the viewpoint of opposition, conflict, oppression or exclusion, as was often the case in the traditional historiography, but also from that of coexistence, acceptance, osmosis or syncretism, in order to analyze the interaction or dialectics between the two aspects. In other words, we aim to free ourselves from the old schema insisting exclusively on the doctrinal or institutional antagonism between orthodoxy and heresy, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, papal primacy and autonomy of national churches, established church and dissenting confessions, so that we may also observe coexistence, interaction or mutual understanding at the social level of daily religious life, as well as the emergence of eclectic or transcendental thoughts trying to overcome the denominational opposition and even to reconcile all the religions. Thus we hope to reconstruct the spiritual dimension of the Occident in totality.
Moreover, the actual state of historiography taken into consideration, it would not be reasonable to confine our attention to the internal development within European Christianity. Although the indirect influence of various Asian religions is not included explicitly in our research project, it is indispensable to consider the fact that Muslims and Jews were the nearest “others” and permanent interlocutors for Christians, and the mutual interaction among the three religions was probably much more important than has been assumed. For this reason, we include in our project the East Mediterranean regions under the Ottoman rule, with the aim of comparing Christian and Muslim worlds in their difference or resemblance as well as in their mutual interaction with regard to the attitude toward the others, for an attempt to create a new framework for global understanding of history.