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Athabasca University

Dr. Marc B. Cels

Assistant Professor, History and Humanities

Marc B. Cels, Ph.D. (Toronto) is an Assistant Professor in History and Humanities and teaches courses on ancient, medieval and early modern Europe.

I am a medievalist who researches the religious and cultural history of western Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. My investigations focus on a cluster of teachings, policies and institutions surrounding the vice of wrath (anger), one of the Seven Deadly Sins. These include religious norms surrounding violence, vengeance, conflict and conflict resolution or peace-making, as well as theories about the psychology and morality of anger and other passions of the soul. This research contributes to the growing interest in the history of emotions–that is, the changing ways that feelings have been defined, expressed, and governed by past cultures. It also contributes to scholarship on methods of conflict resolution before the advent of the modern state and its presumed civilizing or pacifying function. It was long assumed that medieval people were primitive, infantile and impulsive in their passions and propensity for violence. Scholars now appreciate that medieval people had norms that governed the feelings within their social and political relationships and that these had an important function in their society. The Christian Church was one of the institutions that prescribed particular norms, and the one that has left the richest collection of surviving sources.

The sources I consult consist mainly of Latin (and some Middle English and Old French vernacular) manuals written to instruct priests and friars on how to hear confession and preach sermons. These writings usually digested the more academic works of scholastic theologians and texts of Canon Law. They, thus, both reveal attempts to present the doctrines and laws of theologians and churchmen to a wider, lay audience and reflect back many of the attitudes and mentalities of that audience. While some of the texts are available in modern critical editions, others remain available only as early modern editions or as handwritten books. Manuscript copies are revealing artifacts in themselves, though by necessity I usually must make do with microfilmed or digitized copies. Working with medieval manuscripts involves the study of books (codicology) and medieval handwriting (palaeography). My findings often rest upon establishing relationships between texts and authors and clarifying the pastoral ramifications of what are often technical medieval discussions. Although my focus has been on the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the most influential period in the production of medieval religious manuals, my work also requires familiarity with earlier Classical, biblical, patristic and early medieval discussions of anger, vengeance and reconciliation. I plan to extend my research on anger into the fifteenth century so that I can write a history of medieval wrath that ends with the Renaissance.

My research interests influence my teaching in the importance that I accord to religion and culture in my courses. Besides showing students how past ideas and beliefs continue to shape today's attitudes, I also encourage them to reflect on how many of their basic assumptions and sentiments are determined by their culture. Most of my courses also include at least a taste of ancient or medieval sources and the challenges of deciphering old texts.

Updated March 03 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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