Medieval heresy is back in fashion. From the conspiracy theories of popular novels to the Pays Cathare tourist billboards in the south of France, the men and women who suffered ecclesiastical aggression in defense of their supposedly heterodox beliefs have recently been lionized as never before.
Yet most of what we think we know about these heretics—their beliefs, their practices, even what they were called—is wrong, argues the celebrated British historian R. I. Moore. Few scholars are better positioned to make such a judgment. It was Moore, after all, in his previous works The Origins of European Dissent (1977) and The Formation of a Persecuting Society (1987), who helped construct what has become the standard narrative of the “rise” of heresy in eleventh- and twelfth-century Europe. Now, forthrightly calling that earlier scholarship “fatally flawed,” Moore has set out to reread the documents that shaped the Western church’s engagement with heresy. His findings cast doubt on long-held assumptions about heresy, its practitioners, and the church’s response to it, even as they dissect the complex political, social, and religious interactions that formed those assumptions.