Political Culture in Three Spheres

Byzantium, Islam, and the West

c. 711 – c. 1453


The Questions



1.     Historical Context: what/who are we talking about?


a.How would you define your sphere chronologically and geographically?

b.   What political formations within your sphere do you consider relevant/do you wish to discuss (regimes, dynasties, institutions …) and how do they (not) fit in?

c.What social groups are/become politically involved in these formations (military, bureaucrats, clergy, nobility, commoners, townspeople, women…), and how are they involved (as groups incl. families/households, as individuals, active or passive…)?

d.   What are these formations’ endemic tensions, fluctuations or paradoxes that affect their political process? (inclusivity vs. exclusivity, blood vs. merit, family rule vs. monarchic rule, centre vs. periphery, public vs. private domain, …)

e.What are the essential religious co-ordinates in your Sphere and/or formation?


2.     Ideology & propaganda: how do elites/would-be elites explain their hegemony?


a.What are the vital ingredients of political ideology in your sphere (in general and in particular within each formation)?

b.   To what extent were there conflicting ideologies/ideas/concepts at work in your sphere and/or formation?

c. What types of power and authority did these ideologies underscore (autocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, regional, universal, centralised, decentralised, communal, imperialist, hegemonic, pragmatic, spiritual, secular, dynastic, hierarchic, egalitarian, charismatic, tribal, patriarchal, patrimonial, legislative, soft…) and (how) did they change over time?

d.   How did formations support/enhance these ideologies through propaganda (verbal & non-verbal, including literature, historiography, rituals, ceremonials, art & architecture) and (how) did this change over time?

e. How do the essential religious co-ordinates (as identified in 1.e) influence political culture and ideology in your sphere?


3.     Practice & organisation: how do elites attain and maintain political power?


a.What are the practical sources for your formation’s elite’s hegemony (monopoly of violence, of economic resources, of religious authority, of knowledge and interpretation, of symbols…) and (how) did these change over time?

b.   To what extent was political power publicly organised in your formation (administration, economy, justice, security, religion, ritual, law) and (how) did it change over time?

c. To what extent was political power devolved to the private domain (household politics), and (how) did this change over time?

d.   How important is the geographical setting to your formation’s political culture?

e. How is the continuation of an elite’s hegemony built into the political practice of your formation?

f.   What is the role of peace-keeping and violence (internal and external) in your formation’s political practice?


4.     Inner- & Inter-Sphere contacts: where do elites meet?


a.What kind of exchanges occurred between your sphere’s formations and the other spheres and (how) did this change over time?

b.   How would you define the relation of your sphere and your formation’s political culture to any of the other spheres and formations?

c. How would you define the relation of your sphere and your formation’s political culture to formations not belonging to any of the three spheres?



        Catherine Holmes (Oxford)

        Jonathan Shepard (Oxford)

        Jo van Steenbergen (Ghent)

        Björn Weiler (Aberystwyth)