Dr Amanda Power

Featured Publication

Roger Bacon and the Defence of Christendom (Cambridge, 2012)

Roger Bacon and the Defence of Christendom

The English Franciscan Roger Bacon (c.1214–92) holds a controversial but important position in the development of modern science. He has been portrayed as an isolated figure, at odds with his influential order and ultimately condemned by it. This major study, the first in English for nearly sixty years, offers a provocative new interpretation of both Bacon and his environment. Amanda Power argues that his famous writings for the papal curia were the product of his critical engagement with the objectives of the Franciscan order and the reform agenda of the thirteenth-century church. Fearing that the apocalypse was at hand and Christians unprepared, Bacon explored radical methods for defending, renewing and promulgating the faith within Christendom and beyond. Read in this light, his work indicates the breadth of imagination possible in a time of expanding geographical and intellectual horizons.


The central preoccupation of my research is the volatile relationship between religion and power in the medieval world. Latin Christians inhabited a carefully constructed mental universe animated by God’s love, saved by his sacrifice and destined to end with his terrible and enduring judgement. Most explicit forms of authority and dissent were expressed through the language and behaviour of faith: this was where rationality lay. Institutionalised religion gave public affairs meaning and direction. The later medieval period was a time when the notion of moral reform of society had a peculiar currency in secular and ecclesiastical affairs. It existed in creative tension with other ambitions and was closely connected with the attempts of individuals and institutions to obtain power and restrict access to it. It enabled the definition and regulation of social roles, particularly of women; but also their subversion. It even legitimised the absorption of Greek, Arabic and Jewish thought into Latin systems of knowledge.

I began to explore the connections between these strands in medieval thought in my first monograph, Roger Bacon and the Defence of Christendom, which was a revisionist study of the English Franciscan, Roger Bacon, his reform programme and his environment. My current research pursues these questions in several directions. My next monograph will present a different interpretation of the origins and development of the Franciscan order during its first five decades by shifting the centre of gravity away from Assisi, and the internal workings of the order. While the focus will be on the English province, part of the point will be to place it within the broader continental contexts of the church, religious orders, intellectual life and secular affairs, and to ask about the kind of moral and political regime that the friars served.

I am also working on how the Latin West thought about and acted in the world beyond its borders. At present, I am interested in how this thinking was developed in the context of contact with the Mongol empire to support internal agendas and project them into the wider world; and how exploring it can offer a ‘medieval’ perspective on some of the questions preoccupying early modern and modern historians of encounters, travel and empire. I am also a member of the AHRC project ‘Defining the Global Middle Ages’ [http://globalmiddleages.history.ox.ac.uk/], and as such, am involved in a collaborative project which explores what it might mean for societies to conceive of themselves 'globally' in the medieval period, and what impact such a view of medieval thought might have on our current understanding of 'globalisation' as a specific historical process or a quality of modernity.

  • Beyond paradigms: Rethinking the Franciscan Order

  • Conception and Practices of Knowledge, 500-1450

  • Notre Dame is Burning: Medieval Futures

  • Globalising Cosmologies

  • Per lumen sapientiae: Roger Bacon and the struggle for a hegemonic rationality

  • The Friars in Church and State, 1224-ca. 1267

  • The Uncertainties of Reformers: Collective Anxieties and Strategic Discourses

  • Encounters in the Ruins: Latin Captives, Franciscan Friars and the Dangers of Religious Plurality in the early Mongol Empire

  • The Problem of Obedience among the English Friars

  • The Cosmographical Imagination of Roger Bacon

  • More

Current DPhil Students

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding:

  • Later medieval thought
  • Ecclesiastical history
  • religious and cultural life
  • religious orders especially Franciscan
  • Medieval 'global' history
  • Inter-faith relations.

I currently teach:


Historiography Disciplines
In the Media