Muted voices of the laity heard at long last

07 April 2016
The Religious Worlds of the Laity in Late Antique Gaul

An important gap in the literature examining the transition from Roman rule to post-Roman society has been filled with the release of Dr Lisa Bailey’s The Religious Worlds of the Laity in Late Antique Gaul.

In the book, Lisa argues that Christianity in the late antique world was not imposed but embraced, and that the laity were not passive members of their religion, but had a central role in its creation.

In advancing this argument, Lisa explores the role of the laity in Gaul, bringing together the fields of history, archaeology and theology.

First, the book follows the ways in which clergy and monks tried to shape and manufacture lay religious experience. They had themselves constructed the category of 'the laity', which served as a negative counterpart to their self-definition. Lay religious experience was thus shaped in part by this need to create difference between categories.

The book then focuses on how the laity experienced their religion, how they interpreted it and how their decisions shaped the nature of the Church and of their faith. This part of the study pays careful attention to the diversity of the laity in this period, their religious environments, ritual engagement, behaviours, knowledge and beliefs.

Peter Brown, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton University, writes that “Lisa Bailey's The Religious Worlds of the Laity in Late Antique Gaul is both a masterpiece and a model. It drastically revises common assumptions about the religious role of the laity in early Christian Gaul. She recovers the features of an entire world of Christian lay men and women that is usually cast into the shadows by the glare of assertive clerical texts.”

“We overhear, at long last, the muted voices of the laity, as they pressed in around the rituals, trooped in to the churches and clung to the holy places of the new religion. She has brought to life again the role of ordinary men and women in the religious transformation that made western Europe what it is.”

Jaclyn Maxwell, Associate Professor of History at Ohio University writes that Lisa’s book “provides a nuanced account of the diverse beliefs and behaviours of ordinary Christians, challenging the tendency of scholarship to define religious norms according to the standards of the Church authorities.”

This is Lisa’s second sole-authored book, and it was launched by the receipt of a Marsden Fast-Start grant.

She is “absolutely thrilled to see it in print”.

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