The Challenges and Opportunities of Medieval Difficulty (Kalamazoo 2016 session)

09g_1501[1]Session at International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 12-15 May 2016)
University of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, May 12 – 15, 2016
Organizer: Beth Williamson, University of Bristol
Deadline: Sep 15, 2015

“What is sought with more difficulty is discovered with more pleasure.” (On Christian Doctrine 2.6.8). In praising difficulty, Augustine reminds us of its role as a good within medieval intellectual and devotional culture. With scholarly anxieties about ‘over-interpretation’ and a liking for ‘Occam’s razor’-type analyses, though, few opportunities are provided for the modern medievalist to delve into, and value, difficulty – especially as it remains unresolved, and resists conclusion.
This panel seeks papers on all manner of medieval difficulty: the process of working hard at something, of figuring out a range of meaning(s) in texts, images and artefacts, of living with – and revelling in – open-endedness and lack of resolution, of confronting resistant materials (both physical and abstract), and other long-lasting efforts.
What might have been the devotional and intellectual capital of the difficulty of understanding or even hearing motets, of seeing the upper reaches of stained glass windows, or of engaging in theological concepts beyond human perception and understanding? Where might the deferral of resolution have been seen as appropriate, even beneficial? In what circumstances might individuals and/or groups have sought out challenges that made the road they were seeking to travel (be it to their own salvation, or to the completion of a physical task, or toward any other goal) a difficult one?
This session seeks papers from all disciplines within medieval studies that seek to trace the challenges and opportunities surrounding difficulty as it was sought and sustained in medieval culture.
Paper proposals should consist of the following:
1. Paper proposal (maximum one page)
2. Completed Participant Information Form available at:
3. CV with home and office mailing addresses, e-mail address, and phone number
Please direct all proposal submissions and inquiries to:

Published by James Alexander Cameron

I am an art historian working primarily on medieval parish church architecture. I completed my doctorate on sedilia in medieval England in 2015 at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

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