Call For Papers: Magic, Religion, Science

Call For Papers: Magic | Religion | Science
Indiana University, Bloomington. March 7-8, 2014
Deadline: 10 January 2014

26th Annual Indiana University Medieval Studies Symposium

question-3109789In his famous work, The Golden Bough, James Frazer proposed that human societies evolved from cultures dependent on magic to ones subject to religion and finally to ones guided by science. Scholarship since Frazer has worked to destabilize and expand upon this tidy theory, pointing out that the distinctions between these three categories of belief are not always clear and that, in fact, all three tend to exist simultaneously within the same societies, schools, and even individuals. Nonetheless, Frazer’s division of belief into magical, religious, and scientific modes of thought provides a useful lens for examining the ways that truth can be legitimated, and offers us a clear heuristic paradigm for exploration into human thought and behavior throughout history. Asking questions about magic, religion, and science offers us avenues into different epistemes and windows into the habitus of a group or society.

It is particularly useful for exploring the Middle Ages, which presents a wealth of examples in which the boundaries between magic, religion, and science are blurred, re-drawn, or entirely confounded. Indeed, the designation “medieval” across cultures often signifies a perceived interim period, between classical and modern thinking, in which multiple paradigms–magic and superstition, the hegemony of religion, and scientific exploration–coexist and compete for dominance. Investigating magic, religion, and science further within the context of the Middle Ages helps us not only to understand medieval thinking and culture more accurately and to see how the boundaries of magic, religion, and science were policed at the time, but to disturb modern assumptions about the operation of knowledge in these time periods.

Questions may include (but are not limited to):
– What role did “magical” items/practices (such as amulets, oaths, and curses) play in medieval life, and on what principles were they thought to operate? How, if at all, were they distinguished from religious or scientific practices?
– How does the examination of epistemology help undermine or reinforce distinctions between elite and popular culture?
– How (and how effectively) did medieval religious authorities police the boundaries of religious thought?
– What pursuits were seen as “science” and what distinguished them from other forms of inquiry?
– How did knowledge, obtained through magic, religion, science, or any combination of the three, affect life in the Middle Ages?
– How is scientia used and defined in the Middle Ages, considering that the modern word “science” in modern parlance often denotes an exit from the medieval world and into the Renaissance?
– How do epistemologies vary between genres? For example, how do the views of a culture’s technical texts vary from its literary texts?

Please submit 300-word abstracts to Diane Fruchtman ( by 10 January, 2013.

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