The Roots of Persecution: a comparison of leprosy and madness in late medieval thought and society

  • Author / Creator
    Hill, Elisabeth C M
  • This thesis compares madness and leprosy in the late Middle Ages. The first two chapters explore the conceptualization of madness and leprosy, finding that both were similarly moralized and associated with sin and spiritual degeneration. The third chapter examines the leper and the mad person as social identities and finds that, although leprosy and madness, as concepts, were treated very similarly, lepers and the mad received nearly opposite social treatment. Lepers were collectively excluded and institutionalized, while the mad were assessed and treated individually, and remained within their family and community networks. The exclusionary and marginalizing treatment of lepers culminated, in 1321, in two outbreaks of persecutory violence in France and Aragon, and in lesser but more frequent expulsions through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The mad were not subject to comparable, collective violence. In light of the similar moral and spiritual content of leprosy and madness as concepts, this comparison indicates that a morally condemned or stigmatized condition was not sufficient to generate persecution, or to produce a persecuted social identity. It was the structure of the concept leprosy that produced a collective social identity available to the persecuting apparatus of late medieval society, while the fluid concept of madness produced the more individual identity of the mad person, which was less susceptible to the collective actions of persecution.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2016-06:Fall 2016
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of History and Classics
  • Specialization
    • History
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Gow, Andrew (History and Classics)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Reimer, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
    • Kitchen, John (History and Classics)