Material Affects: Theorizing Bodies and Minds in Medieval North Atlantic Cultures

Kristen Mills, University of Oslo
Marjorie Housley, University of Notre Dame
Rachel Anderson, Grand Valley State University
Erin Sweany, Indiana University

Scholars studying medieval bodies and minds have encountered intersecting and overlapping questions in recent years. Physical and phenomenological experience are, to some extent, inextricable. Much scholarship on emotions has focused on the ways that feelings are embodied, through gesture, somatic response, and emotional performance. Embodied experience, likewise, is inextricable from socially- and culturally- constructed ideas--and feelings--about bodies, space, and being. Nor can the material body be removed/overlooked in our readings of texts: embodied experience of health and dis/ability, and more. Theorists such as Sara Ahmed, Elaine Scarry, and Judith Butler have shown that embodied experience is inseparable from internal/emotional experience and vice versa. At the same time, approaches to medieval minds and bodies have faced similar difficulties: methodological approaches in the sciences and social sciences are often separated from the humanities, while historicist, materialist, and philological approaches to the medieval world have often been positioned in opposition to critical theory.

Just as bodies cannot be separated from minds, and the material cannot be extracted from the phenomenological, we view history, science, and theory as intimately connected. This seminar seeks to build on and deepen this foundation with a range of approaches to feelings and bodies in the medieval North Atlantic. How can critical theory work with historicist and scientific approaches to medieval literature and culture? How can we effectively employ non-humanities methodologies in the humanities? How do these approaches shape, and how are they shaped by, feminist and queer discourses in medieval studies and across the humanities? How can medieval literary and cultural studies allow us to rethink theoretical and methodological tools within and beyond the humanities? We hope to consider new theoretical approaches, more "traditional" methodological approaches, and papers that bridge the two. Proposed papers might fall into the following thematic strands:

  • Interiority and embodied affects
  • Queer/feminist approaches to body and mind
  • Disability/non-normativity in physical and emotional states
  • Intersections of affect, gender, the non-human, race, etc.
  • Historicism and anachronism in medieval studies
  • Spirituality as affective and embodied experience
  • Comparative literary approaches (e.g. Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, or comparative approaches across the medieval world)
  • Using science/social science methodologies such as (but not limited to): Actor-Network Theory, New Materialisms, Medical Humanities, and Systems Theory
We invite proposals from scholars working in all disciplines. Please send 250-word abstracts to Erin Sweany at by July 1, 2018.