My first book was a history of an imaginary people, an ethnography of a literary-ideological construct that was itself a kind of "hostile ethnography". I traced and analyzed the German legend of the Red Jews, an imaginary conflation of the Ten Tribes of Israel with Gog and Magog, the apocalyptic destroyers featured in the books of Ezekiel and Revelation. My publications since 2000 on the 'Protestant paradigm' regarding vernacular Bible translations and editions in the later Middle Ages contributed to a new field of research and debate, with a research cluster at the University of Groningen and a number of conferences and conference panels devoted to the topic. This project addressed late medieval vernacular Bibles, their readership, their dissemination and their cultural effects -- which includes contributing to the conditions under which the Protestant Reformation 'caught fire' so quickly: e.g., Luther's Bible translation was a hit because burghers had been reading vernacular Bibles and biblical texts for so long, not because they had been denied access to the Bible. The wide distribution and availability of German and other vernacular Bible translations in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with 22 printed full Bible translations into German/Low German/Netherlandish appearing before Luther’s famous Bible translation, has been known to scholars since at least the early eighteenth century, when various works on German Bibles before the Reformation began to appear. However, the existence of such translations did not guarantee that scholars, especially church historians and historians of the Reformation took such Bible translations seriously. My findings also demonstrate how central modes of history-writing participate in myth-making -- sometimes even under the guise of source analysis.
In 2003, my former student Dr. Lara Apps and I co-published Male Witches in Early Modern Europe (Manchester UP), which was based in part on her M.A. thesis. Since 2005, my former student Dr. Robert Desjardins (Ph.D. 2008) and I, along with François Pageau and a number of other graduate students, have been working on the witch trials at Arras in 1459-60 -- possibly the very first mass witch-trials that took the classic form under which we know them, a snowball phenomenon driven by torture and sponsored by the authorities -- after coming across a hitherto unknown manuscript of a treatise written to justify the trials in their gruesome aftermath. This princely manuscript had been lurking in the UofA library system's Bruce Peel Special Collections since it was donated to the university by Dr. John Lunn in 1989, but its existence was unknown to scholarship -- a 1999 edition of the text relied on manuscripts held at Paris, Brussels and Oxford, but the UofA manuscript is probably the oldest and the best of them. This text anticipates the much better known Witches' Hammer (Malleus Maleficarum) by a quarter century, and already contains all the elements that the later text would so famously disseminate. Our critical edition of the UofA ms., collated against the other known manuscripts and the 1475 incunabulum printed by Colard Mansion, is in preparation. Our translation of the text, the first into English, and of another treatise written at the same time and in the same place, in collaboration with my Ph.D. student François Pageau and my former student Dr. Robert Desjardins, appeared with Penn State University Press in 2016: http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-07128-2.html. The Bruce Peel Special Collections Library and Archives produced and hosts a digital exhibition on this manuscript: https://omeka.library.ualberta.ca/exhibits/show/tinctor/imagining. We have finished and hope to publish in 2020 with the collaboration of Dr. Jessica Roussanov our complete translation of the voluminous Middle French records of the appeal of the Arras convictions to the Parlement (royal court) of Paris spanning the years 1461 to 1467, with brief postludes up to the final resolution of the appeals in 1491, together with translations of the many late-medieval chronicle entries and other sources relating to these trials from the dawn of the European witch-craze.
Demonology and witch-hunting: for more about my recent research, please see this one-minute presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_dezXYIMew
My latest research topic concerns what I call "Christianoform secularism". My research questions start with various claims made by secular societies and their exponents about the differences between the religious and the political, the private and the public, the past and the present (as roughly aligned pairs). Working with the shared characteristics of a range of related phenomena, from Renaissance- and Reformation-era claims about the immediate “medieval” past, through (debatable) claims to secularity in our own public institutions, attempts to cast Islam and Muslims as 'medieval' (and thus in need of either 'reform' or 'secularization', or both), to questions of how western societies regulate morality according to essentially pre-modern Christian norms while claiming to be both religiously neutral and secular, I hope to show that these issues and topics are, in fact, related to each other, and that understanding the organic-ish process by which each of them grew helps to make sense of the others. The first result of this research program was not a publication of my own, but a special issue co-edited with my M.A. student Nakita Valerio of the University of Alberta's History and Classics graduate student journal, Past Imperfect, collecting refereed and revised versions of research papers by graduate and senior undergraduate students who took my research seminar on secularism in Fall Term of 2016 (in press).