CAROLINE WALKER BYNUM is Professor Emerita of Medieval European History at the Institute for Advanced Study, and University Professor Emerita at Columbia University in the City of New York. She studies the religious ideas and practices of the European Middle Ages from late antiquity to the sixteenth century. In the 1980s, her book Holy Feast and Holy Fast was instrumental in introducing the concept of gender into Medieval Studies. In the 1990s, her books Fragmentation and Redemption and The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christendom provided a paradigm for the history of the body. The essays “In Praise of Fragments” (in Fragmentation and Redemption), “Wonder” (in Metamorphosis and Identity), and “Avoiding the Tyranny of Morphology” (History of Religions 53 ) are widely cited in discussions of historical method. Her recent work, in Wonderful Blood (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) and in Christian Materiality (Zone Books, 2011), is a radical reinterpretation of the nature of Christianity on the eve of the reformations of the sixteenth century. An interpretive essay in art history and history of science as well as religious history, Christian Materiality locates the upsurge of new forms of art and devotion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries against the background of changes in natural philosophy and theology. Currently, Bynum continues to work on devotional objects in northern Europe in the later Middle Ages and Reformation and on theoretical questions concerning medieval images (both textual and visual) and the philosophical problem of resemblance. Her new book on these issues will appear in the fall of 2020 from Zone Books under the title Dissimilar Similitudes: Devotional Objects in Late Medieval Europe.
BYNUM was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1941. She received her BA from the University of Michigan in 1962 and her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1969. She taught at Harvard from 1969-76, at the University of Washington from 1976-88, and at Columbia University from 1988 to 2003. From 1990-98, she held the Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Chair in History; in January, 1999, she became University Professor, the first woman to hold this title at Columbia University. In January 2003 she became Professor of European Medieval History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. From 1993-94, she was Dean of the School of General Studies and Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Education at Columbia. She served as President of the American Historical Association in 1996 and as President of the Medieval Academy of America in 1997-98. She was a MacArthur Fellow from 1986-1991 and holds honorary degrees from fourteen American and foreign universities. Her articles have won prizes from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and the Renaissance Society of America. Her book Holy Feast and Holy Fast received the Governor's Award of the State of Washington and the Philip Schaff prize of the American Society of Church History. Her book Fragmentation and Redemption received the Trilling Prize for the Best Book by a Columbia Faculty Member and the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Analytical-Descriptive Category from the American Academy of Religion. The Resurrection of the Body received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize of Phi Beta Kappa given for the best book of the year on "the intellectual and cultural condition of man," and the Jacques Barzun Prize of the American Philosophical Society for the best work in cultural history. Wonderful Blood—a study of blood piety in fifteenth-century northern Germany in its larger European context—won the American Academy of Religion's 2007 Award for Excellence in the Historical Studies category; the 2009 Gründler Prize for the Best Book in Medieval Studies published in 2007; and the Haskins Medal of the Medieval Academy of America in 2011.
Bynum is a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society and the Medieval Academy of America and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She received the Distinguished Teacher Award from the University of Washington in 1981, Columbia's Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1997, and the Mark van Doren Teaching Award of Columbia College in 2002. In 1999 she was Jefferson Lecturer, the highest honor the Federal Government awards to a scholar in the Humanities. In June 2001 she received the Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate Society, and in January 2005 the Distinguished Career Award from the American Society of Church History. In 2007 her students presented her with a Festschrift titled History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, edited by Rachel Fulton and Bruce Holsinger (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). In June 2012, she was elected to the Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste of the Federal Republic of Germany. On October 4, 2013, she was awarded the Grosses Verdienstkreuz mit Stern (Grand Merit Cross with Star) of the Federal Republic of Germany. In July 2017, she was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. For the spring semester of 2015, she served as the Robert Janson-La Palme Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University.
Ph.D. - Harvard University, 1969
B.A. - University of Michigan, 1962
Courses (since retired)
- Devotional Objects in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
- MacArthur Fellow, July, 1986 - July, 1991
- Philip Schaff prize for Holy Feast and Holy Fast, 1989
- Trilling Prize, and Award for Excellence from AAR, for Fragmentation and Redemption, 1992
- American Academy of Arts and Sciences, elected 1993
- Member, American Philosophical Society, elected 1995
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize of Phi Beta Kappa, and Jacques Barzun Prize of the American Philosophical Society, for The Resurrection of the Body, 1995, 1996.
- Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching, Columbia University, 1997
- Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities, Chosen by NEH, 1999
- Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate Society, 2001
- Mark van Doren Award for Teaching, awarded by Columbia College, 2002
- Gründler Prize, Award for Excellence from AAR, and Haskins Medal of the Medieval Academy of America, for Wonderful Blood, 2007, 2009, and 2011
- Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste of the Federal Republic of Germany, elected 2012.
- Grosses Verdienstkreuz mit Stern (Grand Merit Cross with Star) of the Federal Republic of Germany, awarded 2013.
- Honorary degrees from 15 American and Foreign Universities
- American Historical Association
- Medieval Academy of America
- American Society of Church History
- American Catholic Historical Association
- Hagiography Society
- Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
- Society for Values in Higher Education (elected, 1977)
- American Society for the Study of Religion (elected, 1986)
- Medieval Club of New York
- American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected, 1993)
- American Philosophical Society (elected, 1995)
Docere Verbo et Exemplo: An Aspect of Twelfth-Century Spirituality (1979)
Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (1982)
Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols. ed. Bynum, Harrell, and Richman, (1986).
Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (1987)
Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (1991)
The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (1995)
Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. ed. Bynum and Freedman (2000)
Metamorphosis and Identity (2001)
Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (2007)
Christian Materiality: An Essay on Late Medieval Religion (2011).
Dissimilar Similitudes: Devotional Objects in Late Medieval Europe (2020).
"Why All the Fuss About the Body? A Medievalist's Perspective," Critical Inquiry 22 (1995)
“The Presence of Objects: Medieval Anti-Judaism in Modern Germany,” CommonKnowledge 10 (2004)
“Seeing and Seeing Beyond: The Mass of St. Gregory in the Fifteenth Century,” in The Mind’s Eye: Art and Theology in the Middle Ages, ed. Bouché and Hamburger (2005)
“Perspectives, Connections and Objects: What’s Happening in History Now?” Daedalus (2009)
“Why Paradox? The Contradictions of My Life as a Scholar” The Catholic Historical Review 98 (2012)
“Gender, Generations, and Faculty Conflict: Will Academe’s Mothers and Daughters Repeat the Errors of Its Fathers and Sons?” The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 19, 2012)
“The Sacrality of Things: An Inquiry into Divine Materiality in the Christian MiddleAges,” The Irish Theological Quarterly 78 (2013)
“Notes from the Field: Materiality,” The Art Bulletin 95.1 (2013)
“Avoiding the Tyranny of Morphology, Or, Why Compare?” History of Religions 53 (2014)
“Part of the Problem,” Common Knowledge 21.1 (2015)
“‘Crowned with Many Crowns’: Nuns and Their Statues in Late Medieval Wienhausen,” The Catholic Historical Review 101 (2015)
“Are Things ‘Indifferent’? How Objects Change Our Understanding of Religious History,” German History: The Journal of the German History Society 34 (2016), pp. 88-112.
“Preface,” to Natural Materials of the Holy Land and the Visual Translation of Place, 500-1500, ed. Renana Bartal, Neta Bodner, and Bianca Kühnel, An Ashgate Book (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. xix-xxi.
“Epilogue” to Religious Materiality in the Early Modern World, ed., Suzanna Ivanič, Mary Laven and Andrew Morrall (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019), pp. 247-55.
“Interrogating ‘Likeness’: Fake Friends, Similia Similibus, and Heavenly Crowns,” Historische Anthropologie 28.1 (2020), pp. 31–56.
Last updated August 19, 2020