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Medieval Origins of the European State System: The Catholic Church as Midwife

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The received view in international relations (IR) is that the European multistate system was created when the medieval religious order broke down in the centuries following the Reformation. This view, which sees the medieval Catholic Church as a factor that hindered the advent of the multistate system, ignores a key insight of medieval historians, namely that the deeper historical precondition for the European multistate system was that the Church challenged the notions of empire and hegemony after the eleventh-century conflict of church and state. By mining this body of historiography, this paper shows how the end of the fusion of lay and religious authority in general and the Church's persistent interest in avoiding that one secular polity outmatched the others in particular contributed to the development of the European multistate system. These insights not only question dominant historiographic assumptions of IR, but may also be said to challenge the epistemological approaches of much of this scholarship.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Studies Review
Pages (from-to)914-932
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • Catholic Church, historiography, multistate system

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