Sensing the Sacred: Religion and the Senses, 1300-1800 (CFP, Conference, York, 21-22June 2013)

Sensing the Sacred: Religion and the Senses, 1300-1800
The University of York
21-22 June 2013

Confirmed keynote addresses from: Nicky Hallett (University of Sheffield), Matthew Milner (McGill University), & Chris Woolgar (University of Southampton)

Religion has always been characterised as much by embodied experience as by abstract theological dispute. From the sounds of the adhān (the Islamic call to prayer), to the smell of incense in the Hindu Pūjā (a ritual offering to the deities), the visual emblem of the cross in the Christian tradition, and the ascetic practices of Theravada Buddhism, sensation is integral to a range of devotional practices. At the same time, the history of many faiths is characterised by an intense suspicion of the senses and the pleasures they offer.

This international, interdisciplinary conference, to be held at the University of York from 21 to 22 June 2013, will bring together scholars working on the role played by the senses in the experience and expression of religion and faith in the pre-modern world. The burgeoning field of sensory history offers a fertile ground for reconsideration of religious studies across disciplinary boundaries. We welcome papers from anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, historians, literary scholars, musicologists, philosophers, theologians, and any other interested parties.

Possible topics might include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Synaesthesia: how do religious rituals blur sensory boundaries, and challenge sensory hierarchies?
  • Iconography and iconoclasm: how might we conceive the ‘rites of violence’ in sensory terms? How does iconography engage the non-visual senses?
  • The senses and conversion: how are the senses used to elicit conversion?
  • Material cultures of religion: what role do the senses play in mediating between bodies and sacred objects?
  • The senses and gender: are sensing practices gender specific?
  • The inner (spiritual) senses: how do they relate to the external (bodily) senses?
  • Sensory environments: to what extent do environments shape devotional practices and beliefs, and vice versa? How do we use our senses to orient ourselves in space?
  • Affect: what role do the senses play in the inculcation of religious affect?

Proposals (max. 300 words) for papers of 20 minutes are welcomed both from established scholars, and from postgraduate students. Applications from panels of three speakers are encouraged, as well as individual proposals. They should be sent to conference organisers Robin Macdonald, Emilie Murphy, and Elizabeth Swann by 6pm on 5 November 2012. Download the Sensing the Sacred Poster.

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