Law and Mission

Research Project

The project follows the question of the mutual connections between mission and the formation of law. It concentrates on the first millennium and uses a broad concept of norms as well as an open concept of mission. For apart from the problem of what law and normative knowledge actually are, it seems much more complicated to say what mission is – an a priori given disposition of humans to spread individually or institutionally understood convictions, behaviors and technical practices as well as to overcome what is considered 'inferior'?

The project does not want to write (another) history of mission. It will not be about "law and Christianization", but about the question of the context of motivation and effect of missionary behavior on the genesis of norms, the mutual and not always conflict-free influence of epistemic communities, and the analysis of such dynamic processes.

It raises questions about motivations: Why do some people feel called to mission to others? For the individual, this question may be hard to answer, especially for such distant times as the first millennium. It is precisely the individual past of people of a history that becomes more and more collectivized in the course of time in the frame of reference of memory and forgetting that can no longer be grasped today. For the individual, there is an institutionally or socially binding frame of action within his social environment, the social individuals, which, however, would make his actions predictable, or better: explainable only if these shaping conditions were known. This, too, is in the last methodological consequence a source problem.

The project Law and Mission moves in what is sometimes called the "First Middle Ages", since it lets its period of investigation end with the beginning confrontation between the papacy and the German kings in their function as Roman emperors from the second half of the eleventh century, which at the same time is also seen as the beginning of a second, as it were more 'modern' Middle Ages because of the emergence of learned – Roman – law in Bologna and its deliberate influence in the style of thinking by contemporary scholastic methods. In the history of philosophy, this period also marks a turning point, since the emergence of universities led to the spread of the scholastic method prepared by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109).

In order to be able to situate the phenomenon of the connection between abstract norms and practical conviction in a human-historical context and to analyze it appropriately, preliminarily cultural-historical questions must be raised and taken into account, as it were. Thus, migration or missionary histories before Christianity are included to grasp the 'anthropological constant' (inherent in being human) in the spread of knowledge and belief as a supra-temporal factor. Emphasis is also placed on the connection between archaeological and written sources as indicators of the spread of cultural practices.

The research project will focus on these interrelations between mission and law in Europe without, however, making epochal concepts absolute. The aim is both to make an intercultural comparison and to attempt to relate the results to research on law and mission in the early modern colonization of the Iberian Worlds with a diachronic approach.


Ehlers, C.: Die Integration Sachsens in das fränkische Reich (751–1024). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen (2007), 686 pp.
Ehlers, C.: Jihad oder Parusieverzögerung? Zur heilsgeschichtlichen Bedeutung eines Raumes außerhalb des Römischen Reiches. Rechtsgeschichte - Legal History Rg 23, pp. 151 - 173 (2015)
Ehlers, C.: Rechtsräume. Ordnungsmuster im Europa des frühen Mittelalters. De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin, Boston (2016), X, 180 pp.
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