Call for Papers: The Borders of Religion

Call for Papers for the International Medieval Congress 2020, Leeds, 6-9 July 2020

Deadline: 24 August 2019

In the modern world people often take it for granted that something called ‘religion’ exists separate from other aspects of human behaviour, such as ‘politics’ or ‘economics’. Historians of pre-modernity, however, have often been wary of anachronistically importing the borders between the religious and the secular into earlier periods. A growing body of work rejects the existence of ‘religion’ before the modern period; scholars of antiquity and the Middle Ages are increasingly invited to write histories ‘without religion’.

Do such invitations necessarily present the Middle Ages as an Age of Faith, before ‘the fission of a primitive whole’ (John Bossy) into modernity’s religion and society? Since an influential strand of scholarship on secularity sees the distinction between religion and politics as itself a product of a distinctly Western history, in which the Christian Middle Ages plays an important role, can the delimitation of religion be both foreign to and the product of pre-modernity?

The proposed session(s) is intended to explore some of these issues by addressing the question of the borders of religion in the Middle Ages. Could medieval people conceive of religion as something distinct? Did they draw boundaries between it and other spheres, in practice or theory? Is the distinction between religion and the secular a purely Christian phenomenon or did non-Christian (pre-Christian, Islamic, Jewish, etc.) communities draw similar distinctions in the era before Christian global hegemony? How did the distinctions medieval people made, between human and divine affairs, religio and saeculum, relate to the modern religion/non-religion divide? How anachronistic is the study of medieval ‘religion’?

Abstracts of c.100 words are invited for papers of 20 minutes to be delivered at the International Medieval Congress 2020 in Leeds that address these or similar questions. Papers can deal with any period or place that would usually be accepted at the IMC. Abstracts (and questions) to be sent to conor.1.o’ by 24 August 2019.