Joëlle Rollo-Koster

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline History
Professor of Medieval History, University of Rhode Island, Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences

Research project

Popes and Intruders: A History of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417)


No holistic history of the Great Western Schism has been published since George Jefferis Jordan’s The Inner History of the Great Schism of the West: A Problem in Church Unity in 1930. And his was limited to the confines of the historiography available at the time. Popes and Intruders: A History of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) will be the first English-written academic history of the Schism in the past few generations. A comprehensive analysis of the Schism is long overdue; most previous works have been either overly general or narrowly focused on the course of events, a single pontificate, or the negotiations that eventually led to its resolution. As interest in the Catholic Church continues to grow with Pope Francis, so does interest in the history of the institution.


In 1378 two competing conclaves elected one pope respectively, Urban VI and Clement VII, who each established their own group of followers (that is their obedience) and court in Rome and Avignon. After 1378, and up to 1417, the Christian world effectively had two popes. The crisis was without precedent. Of course, since Howard Kaminsky’s evaluation, the institutional culture that grew from the Avignon papacy can be made directly responsible for the development of the Schism. The Avignon popes’ beneficial system (the endowment of various forms of incomes to ecclesiastical charges or offices that allowed the grantee to subsist, and often thrive) anchored their ecclesiastical networks, often staffed by "interested" parties all inclined to see the machine run efficiently. The Avignon popes’ financial centralization and efficient tax collection led to and eventually clashed with the growing oligarchic pretensions of their College of Cardinals. Thus, it is highly possible that a schism would not have developed without an Avignon papacy. Still, the Schism stood on its own. It came after catastrophic demographic crises (plague, war), intense questioning of Catholic hierarchy over the Spiritual Franciscan question, and maybe rode the wind of "liberty" that marked the end of the Middle Ages (as argued by Samuel K. Cohn, jr.).


My work aims at refreshing a historiography that has not produced an all-inclusive history of the Schism for the past three generations. Traditional historiography has scrutinized events under a politico-institutional lens. I would like to open the field with a more encompassing approach, analyzing not only religion and politic, law and theology, but also symbols, performance, and the conceptual apparatus of this period of crises.





Joëlle Rollo-Koster is Professor of Medieval History at the Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. She holds a Ph.D in History from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Her main research interests focus on the social and cultural life of the late European Middle Ages, from the 1300s to the 1420s. She studies social and cultural behaviors, including politics, marriage, day-to-day life, religious views, and death. She is recognized worldwide for her scholarship on the city of Avignon and its papacy.





Selected publications


Death in Medieval Europe: Death Scripted and Death Choreographed, Routledge, New York, 2016.


Avignon and its Papacy (1309-1417): Popes, Institutions, and Society, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 2015.


'Avignon’s Capitalization and the Legitimation of Transiency', in E. Brilli, L. Fenelli & G. Wolf (eds), Images and Words in Exile: Avignon and Italy in the First Half of the Fourteenth Century (ca. 1310-1352), SISMEL - Edizioni del Galluzzo, Florence, 2015, pp. 259-269.


'Episcopal and Papal Vacancies: A Long History of Violence', in R. Kotecki & J. Maciejewski  (eds), Ecclesia & Violentia: Violence against the Church and Violence within the Church in the Middle Ages, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2014, pp.54-71.


'The Politics of Sede Vacante and the Sack of Rome (1527)', in J. D. Davies (ed.), Aspects of Violence in Renaissance Europe, University of Warwick, Ashgate, London, 2013, pp. 41-60.





junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Anthropology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
discipline Cultural Studies