The RELMIN project


RELMIN is a research project mobilising an international team based at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Ange-Guépin in Nantes.

RELMIN collects, publishes and studies legal texts defining the status of religious minorities in pre-modern Europe, offering a wide-ranging outlook onto the debates in 21st century European societies, where increasing trends to secularisation as well as the simultaneous reaffirming of religious identities are potential sources of conflict.


Image issue de l'ouvrage d'Alfonso X de Castille - Chrétien jouant aux échecs avec un Musulman - Entre 1251 et 1282 - Wikimedia CommonsEuropean religious diversity has its roots in the practice of medieval societies.  Medieval European polities, Christian and Muslim, granted protected and inferior status to selected religious minorities. 

The study of the legal sources of Medieval religious cohabitation shows that medieval societies, like our own, underwent constant change and that religious cohabitation, while of course not always peaceful, has been the rule rather than the exception in European history.

RELMIN is building a database of legal texts, a new major interdisciplinary research tool on the legal status of religious minorities in medieval Europe, and is organising a series of workshops, seminars and an international conference through the period 2010-2015. All of this work will lead to major publications both online and in a new book series  with Brepols Publishers


Medieval roots to European religious pluralism?


Freedom of religion is a fundamental right inscribed in the treaties of the European Union and in the constitutional texts of its member states. Yet in practice, the wearing of a Sikh Turban, the Catholic Holy Week procession, the call of a muezzin issuing forth from a loudspeaker atop a minaret, to cite only a few examples, all call into question the boundaries between public and private spheres, the distinction between religious and cultural symbols, and the possibility of reconciling communal identities with national policies. In our societies, the increasing trends of secularisation as well as the simultaneous reaffirmation of religious identities encourage division. While the broad principles of religious freedom are universally acknowledged, the contours of that freedom in the daily lives of Europeans of all religions vary from one member state to another and are frequently subjects of debate and polemics.


The issues of religious diversity and of the regulation of pluralistic European societies are not new. On the contrary, religious diversity in Europe is grounded in the practice of Christian and Muslim polities of the European Middle Ages. A number of legal texts define the position and legal status of these religious minorities.

First, the Roman law code of emperor Theodosius II, promulgated in 438, granted a protected but socially inferior place to Jews in Christian Roman society.  These principles echo through the canon law and imperial and royal legislation of Medieval Europe, providing the bases for an inferior and often precarious place in Christian society. Later canon lawyers and lay princes extended the same inferior but protected status to Muslims living in their realms, particularly in Sicily and Spain.

In Muslim societies, Qur’an and Hadith define the status of the dhimmi, protected minorities (principally Jews and Christians). Hundreds of legal texts from Muslim Spain, Sicily and elsewhere testify to the role of religious minorities and to the legal issues posed by their daily relations with the Muslim majorities: Fatwas (judicial consultations) and hisba manuals (municipal law collections) deal with everything from the reliability of Jewish and Christian witnesses in court trials to dress restrictions. While Jews were everywhere the minority, their relations with the adherents of other religions were also based on sacred texts (the Torah) and on the legal opinions of the Talmud. Various Jewish authors of Medieval Europe, from Cordova to Krakow, in texts such as biblical commentaries, letters, or responsa, offered legal advice to fellow Jews on the proper and legal limits to relations with Christians and Muslims.


A new major research tool: the RELMIN database of legal texts on the status of religious minorities


RELMIN collects, publishes and studies legal texts defining the status of religious minorities in pre-modern Europe.  The corpus of texts is rich and varied, spanning ten centuries over a broad geographical area; these texts, in Latin, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic (and also in Medieval Spanish, Portuguese, and other European vernaculars), are dispersed in libraries and archives across Europe.

They are presented in the database in their original languages, with translations into English and French, as well as commentaries and an annotated bibliography on the subject.  This constitutes a major reference tool for research in the history of minority law and of interreligious relations.



Collaborative, transcultural research and contemporary sociopolitical and cultural implications 


RELMIN promotes innovative research and seeks to go beyond the traditional divisions over the subject. Since our research has important social implications towards our contemporary societies, we offer to bring forth a new perspective into the debates, which often pit, in gross simplifications, liberty of expression against respect for tradition, or tolerance against exclusion (insults to the beliefs or traditions of a religion, visual expressions of religious identity).


The study of legal sources shows that medieval societies like our own underwent constant change and that lawmakers and religious scholars sought responses (some conservative, some innovative) to those changes. In this, they differ little from their counterparts in twenty-first century Paris or Istanbul. RELMIN shows that religious cohabitation, while of course not always peaceful, has been the rule rather than the exception in European history, and that if we wish to construct a multicultural and multifaith Europe, we had better understand the historical foundations upon which we are building.






Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes