Welcome! I am the professor your other professors warned you about. I love Christianity, America, and the Western tradition of theology, art, philosophy, music, letters, and education. I believe in the reality of truth, beauty, goodness, and love. I teach history as an exercise in empathy, rethinking the thoughts of the past so as to shed light on our common humanity. I judge people by what they say and do, not by what others say about them. I worship Jesus Christ as Lord and honor Mary as Mother of God.
On this page you will find information about my research interests, publications, teaching, and fencing results. For an introduction to my work, see Reading Guide. I give a fuller description of my past and ongoing research, including my method, in Professional Self Portrait. For my teaching philosophy, see Masterclass. MedievalGate offers reflections on my experience as a conservative in academia. For my journey as a servant of Wisdom, see The Lady and the Logos. You can follow my adventures with Milo Yiannopoulos at Milo Chronicles. For my podcasts and videos, visit Bear On Air.
Curious about the little buildings? See “A Time to Build.”
My Professional Self
Associate Professor of History
Department of History
The University of Chicago
Research and Teaching Specialties
- History of Christianity
- Medieval European Religious, Cultural, and Intellectual History
- Liturgy and Prayer
- Devotion to the Virgin Mary
- Scriptural Exegesis and Hermeneutics
- Subcreation and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien
My Public Self
My blog: Fencing Bear at Prayer. Musings of an Entish Presby-Catholic medievalist on training the soul in virtue in the postmodern West.
My online courses at Unauthorized.tv:
My guest appearances on video, radio, and podcasts, including videos about me: Bear On Air.
My YouTube channel: Fencing Bear at Prayer, with playlist of my videos. Videos also archived on my BitChute channel.
My Telegram channel: Fencing Bear at Prayer. A prayerful bear who loves living on the edge between the medieval and the postmodern. Academic and mischief maker. Christian and servant of Mary. Hic dracones! Join my Dragon Common Room for training in the arts of virtue and poetry. Further treasures of the Christian imagination are archived in Dragons' Keep.
"But what is this soul of ours worth,
what is it capable of,
unless God holds it and fights with it? Any sword, however beautifully made,
lies idle if there is no warrior to take it up."
--Augustine of Hippo
WHY I study the Middle Ages: JOY
Because I believe, with J.R.R. Tolkien, that, as creatures made in the image and likeness of a Maker, we are called by our Creator to participate as subcreators in the continuing work of creation and to be moved thereby to praise and thanks for the creation of which we are a part.
Because I believe in chivalry, science, romantic love, education in the liberal arts, the separation between Church and state, representative government, craftsmanship, markets, cities, written contracts, self-examination, self-improvment, self-defense, private property, the value of the individual, the dignity of merchants and laborers, and in caring for widows and orphans, the poor, the weak, the sick, for animals, and the natural world.
Because I believe that ideas matter and that in order to understand the ideals of our modern Western world, including our critiques of ourselves for not living up to our ideals, we need to understand where these ideas came from and how they developed, most particularly in the course of the long Christian tradition.
HOW I study the Middle Ages: CRAFT
I concentrate on the ideas and practices by which medieval women and men formed themselves through reading, prayer, meditation, and worship. My goal is to discover a way to help modern readers "get inside" these practices so as to see the world the way in which medieval Christians did, as a creature of God into which God as Maker entered so that the world itself might be remade.
I read books that no one else has figured out how to read, either because the ideas in them seem boring (they aren't!) or because everyone assumes that we already know what they say (we don't!).
I teach courses in which I encourage students to imagine the thoughts and experiences of men and women of the past "from within," whether through close study of the primary sources or through research projects that enable them to write their own stories or make their own works of art.
WHAT I study about the Middle Ages: PRAYER
Some of the things I have written about: commentaries on the Song of Songs in which the bride is identified as the Virgin Mary and the bridegroom as Christ; liturgies for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin; prayers to the Virgin Mary and Christ; fears surrounding the year 1000; the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist; flowers as surfaces for prayer; sweetness as an experience of the divine; counted prayers; the theology of the Trinity and the importance of the Holy Spirit in twelfth-century devotion to the humanity of Christ; exercises for training the attention in prayer; Hildegard of Bingen's theology of revelation; Anselm of Canterbury's prayers to the saints; Francis of Assisi's Office of the Passion; how to read the Psalms.
Some of the things I am happy to talk about: the Office of the Virgin Mary; books of Hours; commentaries on the names of Mary found in the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms; Mary as a model of human creativity.
Some of the things that I am thinking about as part of my current research: training the soul in virtue; the psychological bases for the doctrine of the Seven Deadly Sins; the growth of cities and their relationship to prayer; how saying the Psalms in honor of the Virgin Mary gives birth to understanding and joy.
My scholarship has been supported with fellowships from the National Humanities Center (1998-99), the American Council of Learned Societies (1998-99, 2008-09), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2008-09), and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (1992-93, 2003-06), among others.
Ongoing major projects:
- a translation of John of Garland's Epithalamium beate virginis Marie, an elegiac poem of nearly 6000 lines narrating the life of the Virgin from her conception and birth in the Holy Land to her assumption into heaven and marriage to Christ, intended as a textbook in theology and the liberal arts;
- editing a volume on Medieval Marian Devotion for Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition;
- serving as area editor for Medieval Christianity for The Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception. [Video]
Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.
History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person. Co-edited with Bruce Holsinger. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
- Chapter 2 Ave Maria: How to say the Ave Maria and why the Virgin's name was Mary [Read online]
- Reviews by Robert L. Fastiggi, Church History 89.1 (March 2020): 174-76; Willemien Otten, The Journal of Religion 100.1 (January 2020): 134-37; Fr. James Schall, SJ, "On Mary the Mother of God, Queen of the Universe," Homiletic & Pastoral Review (April 30, 2019); Nils Zumbansen, Facts and Stories (March 29, 2019); N. Dass, "Restarting the Engine of Christianity," The Postil Magazine (February 1, 2019); Ineke van ’t Spijker, Church History and Religious Culture 99.1 (2019): 74-75; Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, Anglican and Episcopal History (December 2018); Rebekah Lamb, "What's the problem with medieval mysticism?," Catholic Herald (November 8, 2018); Barbara Newman, Speculum 93.4 (October 2018): 1169-71; Nathan Ristuccia, "Our Lady of Everything," First Things (May 2018), 55-57, with responses by Rachel Fulton Brown, Sarah Jane Boss, and Bruce Clark, First Things (August 2018), 3-5.
From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
the 2006 John Nicholas Brown Prize by the Medieval Academy of America
for "a first book or monograph on a medieval subject judged by the
selection committee to be of outstanding quality."
- Awarded the Journal of the History of Ideas Morris D. Forkosch Prize for "the best book in intellectual history published in 2002."
- A Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title of the Year.
- Reviews by Sarah Hamilton, History: Journal of the Historical Association 92.1 (January 2007): 108-9; Sarah Jane Boss, American Historical Review 111.5 (December 2006): 1576-77; Penny J. Cole, Theological Studies 67.4 (December 2006): 886-88; Kevin Madigan, History of Religions 45.3 (February 2006): 270; Marsha L. Dutton, The Catholic Historical Review 92.1 (January 2006): 107-110; Karl Morrison, "Constructing Empathy," Journal of Religion 84 (April 2004): 264-69; M.B. Pranger, "On Devotional Historiography," Dutch Review of Church History 84 (2004); Wanda Zemler-Cizewski, Speculum 79.4 (October 2004): 1071-72; Thomas F.X. Noble, Theological Studies 65.4 (December 2004): 861-64; Arthur G. Holder, Church History 73.1 (March 2004): 197-199; Janice Pinder, The Medieval Review, 04.06.11; Henrietta Leyser, European Review of History--Revue europeenne d'Histoire 11.3 (Autumn 2004): 429-30; and Benedicta Ward, Journal of Theological Studies 54.2 (October 2003): 817-18.
“Prayer.” In The Oxford Handbook of Christian Monasticism, ed. Bernice M. Kaczynski, pp. 317-32. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.
“Mary and the Body of God: Servasanctus of Faenza and the Psalter of Creaton.” In Medieval Franciscan Approaches to the Virgin Mary, ed. Steven J. McMichael. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2019.
"Mary in Medieval Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin." In The Oxford Handbook of Mary, ed. Chris Maunder, pp. 338-51. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
"Exegesis, Mimesis, and the Voice of Christ in Francis of Assisi's Office of the Passion." The Medieval Journal 4.2 (2014): 39-62.
"Mary in the Scriptures: The Unexpurgated Tradition." The Theotokos Lectures in Theology 7. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2014.
"What's in a Psalm? British Library, MS Arundel 60 and the Stuff of Prayer." In Rome and Religion in the Medieval World: Studies in Honor of Thomas F.X. Noble, eds. Valerie L. Garver and Owen M. Phelan, pp. 235-52. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014.
"Anselm and Praying with the Saints." In Experiments in Empathy: The Middle Ages, ed. Karl Morrison and Rudolph M. Bell, pp. 115-38. Turnholt: Brepols, 2013.
"Hildegard of Bingen's Theology of Revelation." In From Knowledge to Beatitude: St. Victor, Twelfth-Century Scholars and Beyond. Essays in Honor of Grover A. Zinn, Jr., eds. E. Ann Matter and Lesley Smith, pp. 300-27. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013.
"Oratio." In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism, eds. Patricia Z. Beckman and Amy Hollywood, pp. 167-77. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
"My Psalter, My Self; or How to Get a Grip on the Office According to Jan Mombaer (d.c. 1501): An Exercise in Training the Attention for Prayer." Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 12.1 (Spring 2012): 75-105.
"Three-in-One: Making God in Twelfth-Century Liturgy, Theology and Devotion." In European Transformations: The Long Twelfth Century, eds. Thomas F.X. Noble and John Van Engen, pp. 468-97. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.
"Mary." In Christianity in Western Europe c. 1000-c. 1500, eds. Miri Rubin and Walter Simons, pp. 283-96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
"Praying by Numbers." Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 3rd. series, volume 4 (2007): 195-250.
"Praying with Anselm at Admont: A Meditation on Practice." Speculum 81.3 (July 2006): 700-733.
"'Taste and See That the Lord is Sweet' (Ps. 33:9): The Flavor of God in the Monastic West." The Journal of Religion 86.2 (April 2006): 169-204.
"The Virgin in the Garden, or Why Flowers Make Better Prayers." Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 4 (Spring 2004): 1-23.
"'Quae est ista quae ascendit sicut aurora consurgens?': The Song of Songs as the Historia for the
Office of the Assumption." Mediaeval Studies 60 (1998): 55-122.
"Mimetic Devotion, Marian Exegesis, and the Historical Sense of the Song of Songs." Viator 27 (1996):
“Make Art—and Academia—Medieval Again.” Academic Questions (Autumn 2020). Commentary by Professor Bruce Gilley [video]
"Dialogue with Dignity." Changing Our Consciousness, Inc. August 2-16, 2020. [Video]
"Should we really be upset about these statues?" With Milo Yiannopoulos, Friday Night's All Right. June 29, 2020. [Video]
"FVFC: Great Holy Fools in Film." With Tyler Hummel. February 19, 2020. [Video]
Milo Chronicles. New York: Dangerous Books, 2019.
- Reviewed by Stephen B. Presser, "What We Are Reading," Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture (July 2021): 23.
"Exposing Howard Zinn's Fake History of America." Interview with Mary Grabar. September 23, 2019. [Audio]
"Western Civilisation, Christianity, and the Middle Ages." Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, August 14, 2019. [Video]
"What's the point of reading 'Great Books'? The Lesson of the Middle Ages." ABC Religion & Ethics, August 16, 2019. Lecture for Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, August 14, 2019. [Video]
The Ramsay Podcast, with Stephen McInerney, August 14, 2019. [Audio]
"Is Academia Good for the Soul?" Annual Meeting of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, May 4, 2019. [Video]
"Safe Spaces vs. Sacred Spaces." First Annual Chris and John Furedy Lecture, London, Ontario, May 3, 2019. [Video]
"It's her cathedral. But somehow Our Lady has been forgotten." Catholic Herald, April 18, 2019; reposted on The Marian Room, Mary 22, 2019.
"Fire in the Cathedral." First Things, April 17, 2019.
Foreword in Milo Yiannopoulos, Diabolical: How Pope Francis Has Betrayed Clerical Abuse Victims Like Me and Why He Has to Go (New York: Bombardier Books, 2018).
"Mary and the Art of Prayer: Conversations with Mark Bauerlein." First Things, June 22, 2018. [Audio]
"Training the Soul in Virtue: Lessons from the West." What is Western Civilization? National Association of Scholars Conference, February 9, 2018. [Video]
"Milo, Jordan Peterson, and the Symbolic Worldview." Interview with Jonathan Pageau, July 13, 2017. [Video]
"Three Books on the Virgin Mary: An Interview with Rachel Fulton Brown." First Things, June 16, 2017.
"The Quest for the Historical Mary." First Things, June/July 2017.
"Why Milo Scares Students, and Faculty Even More." Sightings: Religion in Public Life, February 16, 2017.
Review of Holly Ordway, Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages, in Athwart, July 14, 2021.
Review of Jill Geoffrion, Visions of Mary: Art, Devotion, and Beauty at Chartres Cathedral, in Reading Religion, September 12, 2018.
Review of R.M. Thomson and M. Winterbotton, eds., Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary: William of Malmesbury, in The Medieval Review 16.09.35.
Review of Maureen Barry McCann Boulton, Sacred Fictions of Medieval France: Narrative Theology in the Lives of Christ and the Virgin, 1150-1500, in H-France 16 (April 2016), No. 50.
"Penisgate: Response to Matthew J. Milliner, 'The Sexuality of Christ in Byzantine Art and in Hypermodern Oblivion.'" Religion and Culture Web Forum. The Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, The University of Chicago. January 2014.
Review of Leslie Brubaker and Mary B. Cunningham, The Cult of the Mother of God in Byzantium: Texts and Images (2011), in The Medieval Review 12.10.08.
Review of Gary Waller, The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and Popular Culture (2011), in The Medieval Review 12.02.29.
Review of Donna Spivey Ellington, From Sacred Body to Angelic Soul: Understanding Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (2001), in The Medieval Review, 02.03.08.
Complete list of book reviews
Centrism Games: A Modern Dunciad, by the Dragon Common Room (2021).
In which the Goddess Fama sends a band of very different Knights on a quest to prove themselves her devoted servants.
A cautionary tale in heroic couplets modeled on Alexander Pope's scathing 18th-century Dunciad.
Available in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Tips for Dealing with Writer's Block: For Teachers and Students
Style Sheet for Footnotes and Bibliography
History of European Civilization:
Knights and Samurai
I. Early Middle Ages to Enlightenment (Autumn 2005)(Autumn 2015)
II. Enlightenment to Present Day (Winter 2008)(Winter 2016)
War in the Middle Ages
Tolkien: Medieval and Modern
History Colloquium: Writing Historical Fiction
History Colloquium: Religion and History
B.A. theses advised
Advanced Undergraduate and Graduate
Europe in the Early Middle Ages
Colloquium: How to Be Good
Europe in the High Middle Ages
Medieval Christian Mythology
Mary and Mariology
Cities and Towns in the Middle Ages
Animals in the Middle Ages
The Arts of Language in the Middle Ages: The Trivium
Religion and Society in the Medieval West
M.A. theses advised
Graduate Colloquia and Seminars
Virtues and Vices in Medieval Christian Thought
The Psalms in Medieval Christianity
Peter Lombard's Sentences
Medieval Biblical Exegesis
Sacrament and Liturgy in the Medieval West
Praying by the Book
Spiritual Exercises: History and Practice
Religious Thought in the Twelfth Century
Religious Thought in the Later Middle Ages
Manuscripts and Medieval Culture
The Conversion of Europe
Intellectuals in the Twelfth Century
Problems in Medieval History I
Problems in Medieval History II
The Meaning of History
The Passion of Christ
Medieval European History Orals Starter List
Ph.D. dissertation advising
My teaching at the University of Chicago has been recognized with the Provost's Teaching Award (2006) and the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2007).
Medieval Studies at The University of Chicago
Undergraduate and Graduate Programs in Medieval Studies
Academic Freedom at The University of Chicago
My club: Fencing Center of Chicago
My USFA rating: B18 Foil
My best results:
Bronze Medalist, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59, USFA Summer Nationals, St. Louis, MO, July 2018.
World Championships 2016 Team USA, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59.
5th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59, USFA Summer Nationals, Dallas, TX, July 2016.
Silver Medalist, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59, North American Cup, Richmond, VA, April 2016.
6th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59, North American Cup, Baltimore, MD, December 2015.
6th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59, USFA Summer Nationals, San Jose, CA, June/July 2015.
Bronze Medalist, Veteran Women's Foil 50-59, North American Cup, Reno, NV, February/March 2015.
Bronze Medalist, Veteran Women's Foil 40-49, North American Cup, Dallas, TX, December 2013.
6th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 40-49, USFA Summer Nationals, Columbus, OH, July 2013.
5th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 40-49, North American Cup, Reno, NV, March 2013.
8th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 40-49, North American Cup, Milwaukee, WI, December 2012.
Silver Medalist, Veteran's Women's Foil 40-49, USFA Summer Nationals, Anaheim, CA, July 2012.
8th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 40-49; Top 32, Div II Women's Foil, USFA Summer Nationals, Reno, NV, July 2011.
5th Place Finalist, Veteran Women's Foil 40-49, USFA Summer Nationals, Atlanta, GA, July 2010.
George Hardy’s Ankerstein Page (with many useful links)
Archive of Ankerstein Plans
Shop for Ankerstein in the United States
Text and photographs copyright Rachel Fulton Brown, 2002-present.