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Matthew Gillis

Assistant Professor


I am a historian of early medieval Europe, focusing especially on the Carolingian Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries. My research is centered on the religious and intellectual history of this period and concentrates both on continuities between the medieval and ancient worlds and on innovation among Carolingian thinkers and poets.

My book manuscript, “God’s Servant in a Dark Age: Gottschalk of Orbais and Heresy in the Carolingian Empire,” grew out of my dissertation. It offers a new perspective on political power and religious coercion in the Carolingian era through a detailed analysis of the life and thought of Gottschalk of Orbais (806-868). Gottschalk, whose name means “God’s servant,” was a subversive prophet, incorrigible heretic and self-proclaimed miracle worker, who fomented dissent against bishops for decades. What set Gottschalk apart from his contemporaries was that, as a mere priest and monk, he embraced doctrinal conflict and discord as the means of transforming Latin Christianity in an era that demanded obedience to church hierarchy while abhorring religious scandals as offences against God. The scandal and controversy he inspired made Gottschalk a Carolingian rarity—a heretic in the flesh—at a time when heretics were seen as either a distant, foreign danger or the figures of ancient lore, fossilized presences safely tucked away in codices on monastic bookshelves. By tracing the career of this most notorious ninth-century religious outlaw, my research explores how Gottschalk shaped the complex political and religious world of his time, and provides us with a striking and enlightening case of religious dissent and ecclesiastical control in the pre-millennial world.

I am a co-editor (along with Richard Corradini, Rosamond McKitterick, and Irene van Renswoude) and contributor to the volume Ego Trouble: Authors and their Identities in Early Medieval Europe, a collection of essays published by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 2010), which looks at forms of authorial experimentation in the representation of the “self” before the year 1000. Included in this volume is my essay, “Noble and Saxon: The Meaning of Gottschalk of Orbais’ Ethnicity at the Synod of Mainz, 829,” which examines the important role of Gottschalk’s identity in a public controversy that marked the beginning of his career. More recently I have published the essay, “Heresy in the Flesh: Gottschalk of Orbais and the Predestination Controversy in the Archdiocese of Rheims,” in Hincmar of Rheims: Life and Work, edited by Rachel Stone and Charles West (Manchester University Press, 2015).

My current research involves examinations of ancient and early medieval theology and poetry. I aim to develop new and creative ways of viewing authors, texts and ideas that challenge our understanding of the past. In this vein, I published a study in 2014 in the journal postmedieval of Augustine’s Confessiones as both a “weird tale” in the Lovecraftian tradition and as a philosophical expression of his concept of the will (voluntas). I am currently investigating theologies of the worm in pre-millenial Europe as well as exploring aspects of horror and violence in ninth-century poetry and illuminated manuscripts.

At the University of Tennessee I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on early medieval Europe, the Carolingian Empire and medieval intellectual history. I also serve on the Steering Committee for the Marco Institute. Before coming to the University of Tennessee, I taught at Furman University in Greenville, SC, and the University of Virginia.

Research Interests

Early medieval Europe, Carolingian world, Cultural and Intellectual history, Christianization of Europe.


Ph.D., University of Virginia

MA, Western Michigan University

BA, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point


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