In March Professor Paula Gerson participated as a visiting scholar in the Columbia University Seminar on Law and Politics. Gerson presented “Scatological Images, Obscenity, Sex, and Questions of Law in the Middle Ages” on March 12, 2013. While one expects to find Christian devotional images of all kinds in the Middle Ages, Professor Gerson has been curious about the large number of scatological and obscene images that are often ignored. These images are found as sculpture inside and outside church buildings, in devotional manuscripts and as small badges worn on clothing.
In her paper, Prof. Gerson questions previous understandings of these images as simply apotropaic – figures to ward off evil. She argues for a more complex reading within the context of the Middle Ages, one in which piety lives happily side-by-side with uncouth humor. Research into law and sex in the middle ages has helped her clarify many aspects of this discussion.