Call for Papers – Session proposal Leeds IMC 2017 “Fear and Loathing in Medieval Religious Polemics. Using Emotions and the Body as Arguments”

Call for Papers – Session proposal Leeds IMC 2017

“Fear and Loathing in Medieval Religious Polemics. Using Emotions and the Body as Arguments”

The study of techniques of ‚othering’ has become a thriving area of study within medieval studies, and many studies have already addressed the way in which religious opponents were framed in pejorative terms. It is clear that emotions and instinctual reactions – fear, disgust and loathing of the other, but also instinctive love, loyalty and compassion to one’s own group – play a large role in this. But so far, the instrumentalization of emotions does not seem to have been studied systematically across different research fields studying religious confrontations – while on the other hand, the intense activity on the field of the history of emotions has only partially interfaced with the topic of polemics. Building on previous congress sessions on religious polemics, the session therefore hopes to establish a comparative perspective on the use of emotions in different kinds of polemics.

Polemical arguments concerning religion – broadly defined as arguments aggressively confronting a religious opponent – are actually embedded in many sorts of texts and images from the Middle Ages and use many different strategies to distinguish self and other or to delegitimize opponents. Given the great variety of medieval religious conflicts, polemical traditions also address very different religious groups: There are fairly consolidated traditions of anti-Judaist, anti-Pagan and anti-Islamic polemics, but also anti-heretical, anti-clerical, anti-monastic and anti-mendicant strands of polemical argumentation, which are often entangled with each other. To compare their interrelations and their differing ways of perceiving and constructing religious ‚self’ and ‚other’ seems like a highly intriguing proposal – any comparative research would not only be of relevance for all researchers interested in polemics, but also throw light on medieval perceptions of religion altogether.

Yet it is difficult to develop a comparative perspective: At a fundamental level, we are confronted with the fact that there is no medieval definition of polemics and no fixed genre of this name. As a result, research fields focusing on the polemical perceptions of Jews, Muslims, heretics, monks or friars have tended to develop their own understanding of ‚polemical’ argument and forms of othering. Some of these fields deal with texts which can be described as polemical in their entirety (such as anti-Judaic treatises or heresiologies), while others encounter polemical passages or elements interspersed in legal, theological or other texts and images. The issue is complicated by the variety of forms of polemical argumentation, which employ strategies ranging from insinuations and stereotype construction to polemical comparisons, rhethorically elaborate invectives or satires, and drastic, shocking textual or visual images and descriptions. Typically, such strategies draw on communication patterns already present in different genres, such as sermons, drama, disputation etc.

One unifying feature that seems to be shared by many polemical traditions, however, is the particular appeal to the emotions of the intended audience (which is more often the ‚ingroup’ of the polemical speaker than the addressed religious opponent). Both the community of the polemical speaker and (more typically) the aversion towards the ‚othered’ religious opponent could be strenghtened by the use of emotions. But polemical passages in all genres were characterized by a peculiar mix of appeals to reason and to emotion. Depending on its genre, polemical argumentation could appeal consciously to the emotions, at times drawing on rhetorical theories, or managed to emotionally charge an argumentation which was otherwise predicated upon strict principles of legal or theological rationality. Some authors used appeals to the emotions as an introductory framework for the presentation of arguments, or bookended an otherwise dry and problem-oriented argumentation in emotional descriptions. In other genres, appeals to the emotions of the recipients were located on a more visceral level. A particularly effective way of mobilizing an involuntary emotional response was to evoke reactions of disgust and fear by referencing the diseased, sick or unchaste and perverted body (Cf. Cuffel, Gendering Disgust, 2007).

The session hopes to bring scholars from different research fields together to reflect about these themes. We are particularly interested in papers of 20 minutes investigating

  • the way medieval polemicists modelled negative emotional reactions to opponents in different genres
  • the way medieval polemicists used emotions to strenghten their in-group in situations of conflict
  • the way medieval polemicists engaged theories of the emotions
  • the way medieval polemicists tried to evoke bodily reactions as well as
  • the way medieval polemicists used gendered bodies
  • and finally the way medieval authors balanced rule-oriented forms of argumentation (such as disputatio) with underlying appeals to the emotions

Scholars from all fields – art history, history, literatures and philologies, law, musicology, Religious studies, theologies etc. etc. are welcome.

As time is rather short, abstracts of 0,5-1 pages should be sent to as soon as possible, at the latest until September 23th, 2016.

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