Illinois State University’s Associate Professor of History Kathryn Jasper is the recipient of a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which she will dedicate to finishing a book about a revolutionary time for clergy. 

Dr. Kathryn Jasper
Dr. Kathryn Jasper

“I tell students that it’s the greatest revolution you’ve never heard of,” said Jasper, whose book will focus on reforms in the medieval Catholic Church that ultimately sparked civil war.    

Known today as the “Investiture Conflict,” the reforms attempted to curb practices that had been going on for centuries, including marriage for priests. A sticking point came with the banning of the practice of simony—or the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices, such as bishop and archbishop.  

“Back then a bishop was not just a leader in the church, he was a major landlord, holding a tremendous amount of secular power,” said Jasper, noting that power was often lent to whomever appointed him. “So, someone like the King of Germany is not just going to tell the pope, ‘Sure, I’d be happy to stop appointing people and give up that much power.’” Battles ensued when Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV of Germany both appointed an Archbishop of Milan, and divided loyalties led to civil war.  

Jasper’s book, titled Bounded Wilderness: Land and Reform within the Congregation of Fonte Avellana, 1035-1139, examines how the reforms affected one monastery in Italy. “Rather than focusing on the upper-level political struggles, I’m looking at what it means to be a reformed institution in practice,” said Jasper. The book expands on the now-sainted Cardinal Bishop Peter Damian and his push for church lands to stay out of the hands of laypeople. “It’s compelling to see the interactions ‘on the ground,’ so to speak, between the monastery and the local landed aristocracy.” 

Throughout her research, Jasper has utilized geographic information system (GIS) to analyze how property shifted hands and how monks moved in relation to the reforms. “Rather than the battlefields, we can find a lot in the foothills of Italy,” said Jasper.  

 Jasper is the author of several book chapters on Peter Damian. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Award, and a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Association. Jasper serves as the co-leader of the Latin section in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; has been a co-leader of several summer programs in Italy; and been awarded grants and teaching awards from Illinois State’s College of Arts and Sciences.