743 – 813 CE
Charlemagne was crowned emperor on Christmas Day in the year 800, a collaboration between Church and State. A particular division of power between secular and religious authorities would define European society for many centuries.
On this blog I pay particular attention to kinship systems. They deserve this attention: the study of kinship is the most important contribution of cultural anthropology to the social sciences. And while kinship can seem like a recondite, specialized topic, I would argue that it is important for understanding not just small scale, tribal, “kin based” societies, but the major civilizations of Eurasia as well. Europe – specifically Western Christendom – followed a particular path in the development of kinship and family life. The Western Church prohibited cousin marriage, divorce and polygamy, and encouraged the breakup of extended families, and clans. Unusually among major civilization, Christian marriage depended on the consent of both groom and bride, rather than being arranged by parents (at least below the level of royalty and high aristocracy), resulting in a shift in power from older to younger generations, and probably encouraging the accumulation of physical and human capital by young couples.
There is evidence that modern Westerners, the W.E.I.R.D (Western Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic), have a distinctive cognitive style, relatively individualistic and context-independent. The roots of this distinctive psychology may go back to the Middle Ages. This argument is made in several recent articles and a book from Joe Henrich and co-workers. (I haven’t read the book yet.) A few observations: religion isn’t everything; differences in kinship systemsand intellectual style between Europe and China are evident well before the advent of Christianity. Also, it’s not just the influence of the Church that mattered for the establishment of the Western kinship system in the early Middle Ages, but the development of a particular economic regime, the bipartite manor, in which peasants worked some of the week on their own land and some of the week for their lords. The lords of the manors, clerical and secular, pushed for the establishment of independent nuclear families as basic units of production and surplus extraction. Here’s a scholarly treatment, and you can find a lot more from the blogger and tweeterwho calls herself h-bd chick.
Just a generation after Charlemagne, Tang dynasty China presents an instructive contrast. Buddhism had been spreading extensively in China, and Buddhist monasteries had come to acquire considerable wealth. Buddhism presents some clear parallels with Christianity, both in ideals and institutions, but China followed a different path from Europe religiously and socially. Confucian scholars resented the new religion, and complained that it undermined the loyalty of father to son, and subject to emperor. Responding to these complaints, the emperor Wuzong suppressed Buddhist monasteries in 845, and the religion was brought under heavy state control. State patriarchy won, and would dominate China for more than another millennium.