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21 October, 2013

Can We Talk About Religion, Please?


I recently delivered a conference paper, "Can We Talk About Religion, Please? Medievalism's Exclusion of Religion and Why it Matters," in a session on "Marginalized Medievalisms" at the 28th International Congress on Medievalism, at St. Norbert College, in De Pere, WI. Here is the abstract for the paper:

Medievalism Studies which, for the first 25 years of its existence as an academic field, suffered from its subaltern status in relation to its dominant academic sister, Medieval Studies, has since dared touch upon all kinds of topics, from trauma (Kathleen Biddick), orientalism (John Ganim), theory (Bruce Holsinger), Russia's 'Gothic' Renaissance (Dina Khapaeva), psychoanalysis (Erin Felicia Labbie), the creole (Michelle R. Warren), philology (Nadia Altschul), the gothic (Stephanie Trigg), popular culture (Clare Simmons), movies (Nickolas Haydock), Australian literature (Louise D'Arcens), romanticism (Elizabeth Fay), multilingualism (Mary Catherine Davidson), modernism (Michael Alexander), the war on terror (Bruce Holsinger), and medicine (Zrinka Stahuljak), to name but a few of the topics from a list of recent books. Similarly and most recently, Tyson Pugh and Angela Jane Weisl, in the first attempt to produce a volume that could become a widely used introduction to the various Medievalisms (2012) out there, include chapters on major authors and figures (Dante; Arthur; Robin Hood), major genres or discourses (literature; movies; politics), and major audiences or groups (children’s literature; experiential medievalisms). While Pugh and Weisl speak of religious architecture, the Antioch Chalice, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hildegard von Bingen, Chris Newby’s 1993 movie The Anchoress, and the afterlife of liturgical music and performance, they too, bypass Catholicism, which formed and institutionalized during the medieval period, and Protestantism, which came about in critical reformational response to medieval Catholicism. This general tendency in Medievalism Studies is unfortunate because religious movements have over the centuries developed some of the most sophisticated strategies for bridging the otherwise noncontiguous historical moments of Christ’s birth and death, saints’ miracles, the writings of church fathers, church councils, Thomas Aquinas’ synthesis between faith and reason, or Martin Luther’s views on transubstantiation, to name but a few examples, with their adherents’ postmedieval lifetimes. Prayer, ritual, mnemonic and rhetorical devices, visual communication, architecture, and aesthetics play essential roles in overcoming the temporal and cultural gaps which would otherwise make us discard with beliefs that hail from five hundred, one thousand, or two thousand years ago. Religion, thus, should be an essential part of medievalism’s domain, and scholars of medievalism should put it at the center of their discussions, even at the danger of offending some of their audiences in the process.