International Womens’ Day: An Interview with Rebecca Rist

International Womens Day - Interview with R Rist 1

This month is Womens’ History Month and today, 8th March, is International Womens’ Day.

So we’ve taken the opportunity to talk to Dr Rebecca Rist, one of the few young female academics working on the medieval papacy, and find out more about her research.


What are your research and teaching specialisations?

I am a Medievalist, specialising in European History in the High and Late Middle Ages. My research and teaching interests include the history of the papacy, crusading, heresy, Jewish-Christian relations, the medieval Church, religious belief and political ideas.


What made you choose this area?

So many reasons! An inspiring history teacher at school; a gap year in the Middle East; my Catholic upbringing; my Jewish grandfather; my original training as a Classicist which gave me proficiency in Latin and Greek; the fact that young female academics working on the medieval papacy – the ultimate place of spiritual and political male power – are few and far between…


Was there a moment when you realised that you had become a successful academic?

Yes, when my first book The Papacy and Crusading in Europe, 1198-1245 (London: Continuum, 2009) was awarded the University of Reading Early Career RETF Prize for Best Research Output (2010).


What is an exciting development currently in your area?

At the moment I am particularly interested in examining the medieval papacy’s treatment of heretics and religious dissidents in the High and Late Middle Ages. Medieval heresy is a very popular subject area but there has not been much written recently from a specifically papal perspective – looking at how different popes treated different heretical groups and how they decided who to include and exclude from the Church. This new research follows on from my recent book Popes and Jews, 1095-1291 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) which examined papal polices towards Jews and Jewish perceptions of the papacy in the High Middle Ages.


What advice would you have for prospective students wanting to become involved in this area?

Choose an inspiring Ph.D. supervisor who works in your area of interest and be prepared to work very hard! Also, try to read as broadly as you possibly can in the field of medieval history – don’t specialise too early before you really have a grasp of the context in which your research area fits.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Travelling; creative writing (I am currently writing a children’s book); playing the violin; singing in my local choir.


Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My former Cambridge Ph.D. supervisor, Jonathan Riley-Smith who was Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, and my parents – I owe them so much – they taught me how to think critically and to question everything.

International Womens Day - Interview with R Rist 2

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