Please note: There has been a change to the organization of this event and attendees will need to re-register with the link below. Full explanation below.
May 20-22, 2021
How were religious ideas and practice realized through interaction with objects? How did the presence of sculptures, paintings, books, and church furniture—their visibility, tactility, and materiality—help form attitudes toward devotion, sacred history, and salvation? In other words, how did people think with things—both clerics and lay devotees? What was the complex role of sacrament houses, altarpieces, pulpits, jubés, and baptismal fonts in molding ideas about the central tenets of Christianity? How did statues of Christ and the saints make both present and problematic these issues—particularly when they involved performances: carried about the town, taken down from the cross and laid in the sepulcher, or lanced to emit spurts of blood? How did tombs help form ideas about the body, its mortality, and the hope of resurrection? How was the material of these objects comprehended—and what were the consequences of choosing sculpture over painting or selecting one stone over another? How were statues of Christ transformed when real hair was attached to their heads? How did lay, unoffical devotional practice differ from institutionalized forms of piety and how did they both influence each other? How did objects sustain both the status concerns and the often very precise religious beliefs of their patrons? Rather than verify these readings through early modern texts, we recognize both texts and objects as opaque cultural references that must be interpreted according to complex conventions and triangulated to offer compelling readings.
Historians of the late medieval and early modern period have created an antithesis between spiritual (inward) and physical (outward) devotion, branding the latter as superficial, ritualistic and mechanistic. More generally, from the first Protestant historians to Max Weber and his followers, the Reformation has come to be represented as the classic watershed between material, magical devotion and spiritual, rational belief. In a similar vein, art historians have opposed the notion of the medieval cult image, material and functional, to the early modern work of art, subject to aesthesis (Carolyn Walker Bynum, Hans Belting). Yet, does it make sense to distinguish between late medieval and early modern religious culture, given the fact that the definitions and boundaries of these periods are notoriously problematic and considerably overlap? To what degree have these differing traditions dictated separate approaches to these objects and their role in forming beliefs and practices?
For more information and to register, see the new event page here.
Update: As some of you may have heard, CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers) has placed the University of Toronto under censure for the failure of its Faculty of Law to appoint a candidate recommended by its own search committee. Out of respect for CAUT’s censure, the CRRS has withdrawn from hosting or administering the Objects of Devotion virtual conference scheduled for May 20-22, 2021. To avoid further disruption to the presenters, the University of Ghent has assumed full responsibility for the conference.