Postdoc Spotlight: Meet Michael Lovell

Postdoc Spotlight: Meet Michael Lovell

Postdoc Explores Intolerances of the Past for Better Future

Michael Lovell, Ph.D., a new postdoctoral fellow in the College of Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, studies social tolerance in medieval Europe.

Lovell said he inherited his fascination with history from his father, and later became intrigued with medieval history as a teenager after reading a book about European monarchs attempting to reconquer the Holy Land, including Jerusalem.

He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in history from the University of New Orleans, and a master’s in history from Northern Illinois University. In 2023, he completed his doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, researching Christians’ degrees of tolerance and intolerance of other religious groups, such as pagans, Jews and even different Christian denominations. Social intolerance topics included segregated eating, exile, destruction of the places of worship and censorship.

Lovell said he believes studying how older civilizations managed compromise and mutual tolerances helps pave the way for inclusion in modern society.

In Lovell’s words:

Talk about your current research of the history early medieval social intolerance?

For my postdoc research, I am examining what attitudes and social factors led to either outright persecution and what factors led to social toleration and a modicum of mutual respect, as much as that could be expected in the Middle Ages.

Christians of this time considered faith and reason to be the same thing. Not all Christians handled the implications of this equation of faith with reason the same way. Some considered those with a different faith to simply be wrong, a little less rational than themselves, and in need of correction. Meanwhile, other Christians at this time considered those with a different faith to be totally irrational and incapable of reason."

So, for example, if a Christian of the former group has a neighbor with a different faith, they will probably be more inclined to still view that neighbor as someone with whom they can make deals with, converse with, eat with, and maybe even marry. However, if a Christian of the latter group has a neighbor with a different faith, then they will be far more inclined to have nothing to do with the neighbor. From their viewpoint, it would be a lost cause, a waste of time, perhaps even dangerous to associate with the neighbor. The Christian may even advocate for the extreme use of public power against their neighbor. :

What are some examples of how these groups managed tolerance?

The sad fact is that few compromises were ever reached during this period. The most striking compromise, in my view, was between the synergist and the predestinarian Christians. They spent more than a century condemning one another for heresy and tried to drive the other out of existence. During those years, each side heavily censored the other, used state and church power against the other, and publicly humiliated the other. It never resulted in any deaths, however. Eventually they just became exhausted and stopped using state or church power against the other. They both realized that neither of them were going anywhere. Each faction continued to publicly preach their own doctrines, but they treated each other civilly. :

Why did you decide FAU was a good fit for a postdoctoral fellow position?

What led me to FAU were both its record of teaching medieval history to undergraduates and its research resources. Teaching medieval history in the U.S. is somewhat rare. Usually, at most colleges and universities, the period is given a rough coverage in a survey course either on the first half of western history or world history. The opportunity to teach it not only at the introductory level but also at the upper level caught my attention. Furthermore, having had others who have preceded me in medieval history at FAU meant that the institution had the research resources that I could tap into. It meant that I could fulfill both of my vocational loves – teaching and original research. :

What advice do you have for students who are interested in this field?

Broadly speaking, I would advise anyone interested in history to cultivate three things – curiosity, humility and love towards the past. Especially in premodern history, it is often difficult to piece together the conflicting bits of evidence and develop a clear and full understanding of what actually happened and what it all means. It is always a great joy watching my students come to this realization in real time as we pour over primary source documents together in class discussions. It leads to a variety of interpretations and interesting debates. The student should ideally be comfortable with this fact.

In terms of my field, medieval European history necessitates a working knowledge of many languages, particularly if one wants to pursue it beyond and into graduate school. Of course, one’s specialty has a bearing on which languages, but generally speaking it requires a knowledge of Latin, English, German and French. Spanish and/or Italian may be more important depending on one’s subfield. Other languages may also be more important at the expense of others – after all, medieval history includes a lot of different peoples and histories. Any undergraduate should at least pick up a basic reading knowledge of Latin and one other modern language in addition to English. This language knowledge places them well for graduate programs and funding opportunities.

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