Call for Papers – Rewiring Romans. Medieval Liturgies as Tools for Transformation

Call for papers:

Rewiring Romans. Medieval liturgies as tools for transformation

Workshop, 15-17 June 2017, The Norwegian Institute in Rome

Liturgies are multisensory reconstructions of narratives. Enacted in highly structured architectural spaces, supported by visual representations, by sounds, smell, touch, and movement, medieval liturgies created and sustained a repertoire of narratives, reframing identities and social meanings. These multimodal forms of social communication tap into powerful structuring processes in human cognition, redefining the boundaries between self and other and reorganizing the hierarchy of values. Participatory multimodal enactments of narrative dramas, defining new goals, obstacles, resources, and strategies, communicate a collective vision that not only informs, but transforms.

The aim of this workshop is to bring together scholars studying individual and collective identity formation within texts, material culture, and performative liturgies in the middle ages with researchers from cognitive science and visual communication to build a new integrated framework for understanding social change and the multimodal communicative tools developed to foster such change. We ask, how did the liturgy change people? What were the underlying principles for its design? What can we learn about the cognitive and cultural processes involved in social change from liturgical practices and its underlying theories?

In early and high medieval societies, the locus of transformation was the liturgical event and its multimodal registers in the form of surrounding pictorial and architectural structures, chants, correlated sermons and preaching, and their informing theoretical framework expressed in the liturgical commentaries. The ritual spaces provide a stage – both internal and external – in which new identities could be enacted. The liturgy was by far the most high-tech as well as the most pervasive of all communication forms in the Latin West. The liturgy engaged rich and poor, clerical and lay, military and ecclesiastical, male and female, urban and rural, literate and illiterate (Heffernan & Matter 2001:4). It was a ‘structuring force’ for medieval communities (Le Goff, 2003:30), the ‘social glue’ that held a political and social entity together (Romano 2014:6). It was also highly flexible, continually adapting to changing circumstances (Boynton 2006). Despite scholarly intuitions about the pervasive force of the liturgy, a concrete understanding of the actual processes at work — its textual, auditive, visual, gestural, kinaesthetic, and experiential dimensions — still await critical elucidation. Additionally, scholars have taken an interest in the material culture of performative devotion, dedicating attention to the role of artefact in their ritual settings and emphasizing the role of images – immaterial and material – in medieval cognition and culture (Carruthers 1998). Some of the most recent work has opened up to the topic of liturgical multimodality (Palazzo 2014; Jørgensen, Laugerud & Skinnebach 2015); we wish to broaden this scholarship to encompass interactions with social and cognitive processes. Like social media today, liturgical rituals were a pervasive aspect of medieval life, performative, multisensory, and immersive. They were performed in dedicated spaces designed to facilitate collective transcendence, providing material anchors for new identities in the form of paintings and statues of the saints — new role models for a new society.

Emphasizing the need for cross-cutting insights into overarching themes, synthesizing the unique individual perspective from different subdisciplines into a shared and unified vision, we invite scholars from a broad range of disciplines — including history, religion, literature, anthropology, art history, musicology, and theology– to contribute their perspectives on the transformative potential of sensory experience and the tools developed and refined to shape new narratives and identities in post-Roman and medieval Europe.

Central questions for the workshop are:

  • What were the social and cognitive processes involved in religious ritual, such as imaginative immersion, deictic displacements, and elements of play and performance?
  • What were the underlying principles and theories for the design of the liturgy, especially medieval theories of cognition, rhetoric, and the senses that structured visual representations and liturgical performances?
  • What is the illocutionary force of liturgies: What makes a performance valid? How could the liturgy breach the boundaries between heaven and earth, here and now and there and then?
  • How did the changing designs of ritual spaces and practices have impact on society in relation to political legitimacy, creation of social unity, etc.?
  • What were the mechanisms of the liturgical influence out of Rome / into Rome in the medieval period?
  • What can we learn about how medieval liturgies spread and developed in the middle ages from perspectives of connectivity, socio-spatial networks, social network analysis, (SNA) and distributed cognition?
  • How did medieval liturgies work to transform people’s self-defining goals, obstacles, strategies, and resources, i.e., their framing narratives?
  • Can we tease out from our limited sources bottom-up perspectives on social change, in contrast to more common top-down perspectives?

We invite abstracts (up to 250 words) and a brief bio (up to 100 words). Presentation format is 20 minutes with 10 minutes Q&A. Please send abstract and bio to:

Workshop language: English
Deadline for submitting abstracts: 15 March 2017
Workshop dates: 15-17 June 2017
Venue: Norwegian Institute in Rome, Viale XXX Aprile 33, 00153 Rome, Italy



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