Medieval Graduate Workshop Call for Abstracts

Medieval Graduate Workshop:

‘Foreign Knowledge’ – Medieval Attitudes towards the Unknown Thursday 14th – Saturday 16th June 2018

Organised by the Chair for Late Medieval History (Ruhr-University Bochum)

Venue: Conference Room at the Center for Religious Studies (CERES)

Call for Abstracts

In the current age of increasing globalization, immigration, and rapid technological developments, we are confronted with foreign, unknown, and unpredictable affairs on a daily basis. Our attitudes towards these matters reveal much about how we perceive the world today and how we define our place in it. The questions of how to shape the interaction with foreign people and how to cope with unknown variables and concepts are by no means only modern concerns. Encountering the ‘other’, e.g. foreign religions, cultures, ideologies, or knowledge, has always posed challenges – in the Middle Ages as much as today.

The Middle Ages are a particularly interesting case study in this respect as medieval authorities tended to advocate a predominantly closed canon of knowledge which made dealing with previously unknown concepts particularly difficult. Despite this, however, numerous and varied cultural contacts and scientific innovations took place in the Middle Ages that led to confrontations with unknown or foreign concepts.

Our workshop seeks to explore the range of medieval attitudes towards the foreign or unknown – be it people, objects, or ideas. We invite contributions that either address phenomena concerning foreign people or ideas in the strict sense, i.e. from other geographical areas, or the perception of ‘the unknown’ in a more general and abstract sense, for example knowledge about the by definition unknowable future. With the broad nature of the theme we want to encourage and facilitate collaboration between scholars across the arts and humanities.

In order to explore different approaches to our topic, we want to focus on collectively working on original sources. As a consequence, source-based discussions will be at the centre of the workshop. To enable this kind of intensive source work, each participant is asked to submit a source extract (no longer than three pages plus an English translation). The submitted texts will be distributed to all participants beforehand. At the beginning of each session, the participants will give a short introduction to their source (max. 5 min), so the main part of the session can be used for intensive discussions of the texts.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

  • perception of or experience with other cultures, religions, 
  • foreign languages, travels, unknown places
  • superstition, magic
  • knowledge about the future (astrological predictions, prophecies, visions, …)
  • dealing with uncertainties/unknowable developments (regarding leadership counsel, decision-making processes, …)
  • scientific innovations
  • knowledge about God

The workshop will feature a keynote address by professor Jean- Claude Schmitt (EHESS, Paris). 

If you are interested, please send us your CV and a short abstract (350-400 words), in which you explain which source you suggest to submit and how it fits the general theme of the workshop. You don’t have to include the actual source yet.
Abstracts and CV to: Friederike Pfister, Manuel Kamenzin (

Deadline: Saturday 31st March 2018