Call for Papers: ‘Instruments of Devotion in Medieval Religious Practice’, Quaderni di storia religiosa medievale, for publication in 2023 (Deadline 1st December 2021)

The religious experience of women and men in medieval Europe was stimulated by the works, objects and spaces of worship, understood as fundamental material instruments for mediating the encounter with the divine. The role that works of art had in triggering and orienting the devotional response of their public has recently been the subject of analysis in studies that have favoured socio-anthropological, historical, cognitive and psychological approaches, embracing notions related to the social agency of art, theories of response, and the cognitive dimension of reception.
The monographic issue proposed here is embedded in this line of study, but integrates it with the methods and tools of the art-historical disciplines. It maintains the focus of analysis on the materiality of the objects, regarded as essential historical documents of otherwise elusive practices and customs, which will be examined in their significance as devotional tools. The lens through which the relation between artworks and users will be explored concerns the concepts of interaction and dynamism referred to objects, spaces and modes of experience of Western Medieval art.

The first term, interaction, concerns in particular the relationship between the users, the works and the spaces of devotion. Recent scholarship has pointed out that the works were intended to interact on multiple dimensions with their audience. On the one hand, it was the worshippers who “activated” the signifying potential of the objects with specific interactive practices, for example by coming into physical contact with the artefacts, touching and manipulating them, or even ingesting parts of them; but also, for example, by inscribing written formulas or apotropaic figures on them. On the other hand, the works themselves interacted with the faithful, triggering devotional responses, or empathic reactions, through sensory stimulation and processes that encouraged identification and meditation. The materiality of the objects, the iconography of the chosen episodes and the formal rendering of the figures were in this case fundamental in inducing a precisely oriented spiritual reaction in the faithful.

The second term, dynamism, is in some ways complementary to the first, and yet expands the investigation in other directions. Artworks shall indeed be intented as synamic objects. Not only did they change their form and function, for example by being opened and closed, but they could also be subjected to material metamorphoses, bleeding or oozing oils and essences, and could sometimes even become animated, moving in space or speaking to the faithful. The public, in turn, was involved in devotional practices that implied an active dynamism, participating for instance in processions and paraliturgical dramas, or experimenting with kinetic modes of prayer. The spaces of devotion were also central actors in the ritual dynamism, orchestrating the development of the actions in stages; not only that, but they too changed, on the occasion of certain practices, becoming fulcrums of specific ritual actions, or sets for dramatic performances, or even simulacra of places far away in time and space. Without aiming to provide exhaustive or binding case studies, contributions are invited on:

  • Objects used in specific liturgical and ritual practices, including sacred dramas and processions
  • Miraculous works
  • Reliquaries and openable objects
  • Simulacra spaces, e.g. reproductions of the Holy Sepulchre
  • Rood-screens as settings for dramatic actions
  • Spaces, objects, performances in the religious and secular community
  • Gender interaction: comparing men and women
  • Objects of personal devotion

Contributions are accepted in Italian, English and French. Articles should have a maximum length of 60,000 characters, including spaces. To submit a proposal, please send a title and an abstract to the editors of the monographic issue, Zuleika Murat and Fabio Massaccesi (, by 1 December 2021. The final materials (texts and images) must be submitted to the editors no later than 1 October 2022. The volume will be published in 2023. The texts will be subjected to a double-blind peer review process, in line with the journal’s practice.


Published by charlottecook

Charlotte Cook graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in European History from Washington & Lee University in 2019. In 2020 she received her Master’s degree in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, earning the classification of Merit. Her research explores questions of royal patronage, both by and in honor of rulers, in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. She has worked as a researcher and collections assistant at several museums and galleries, and plans to begin her PhD in the autumn of 2022.

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