Call for Papers: Reshaping the World: Utopias, Ideals and Aspirations in Late Antiquity and Byzantium

24th International Graduate Conference of the Oxford University Byzantine Society

25th—26th February 2022, in Oxford and Online

There is nothing better than imagining other worlds – he said – to forget the
painful one we live in. At least so I thought then. I hadn’t yet realized
that, imagining other worlds, you end up changing this one’.

– Umberto Eco, Baudolino

It is the creative power of imagination that Baudolino described to a fictionalised Niketas Choniates in this dialogue from Eco’s homonymous novel (2000). The creation of idealised imaginary worlds has the power to change the past, the present and the future. When imagination is directed towards more worldly goals, it becomes aspiration and such aspiration can influence policies of reform. When imagination is unrestrained, utopias are born.

The Oxford University Byzantine Society’s twenty-fourth International Graduate Conference seeks to explore the impact utopias, ideals and aspirations had in changing the course of history and, therefore, how imagined or alternative realities shaped the Late Antique and Byzantine world(s), broadly understood.  

Our conference provides a forum for postgraduate and early-career scholars to reflect on this theme through a variety of cultural media and (inter)disciplinary approaches. In doing so, we hope to facilitate the interaction and engagement of historians, philologists, archaeologists, art historians, theologians and specialists in material culture. To that end, we encourage submissions encompassing, but not limited to, the following themes: 

  • Theological and/or philosophical usage of utopias in the depictions of the ideal society, of the afterlife, or to serve a particular worldview; 
  • Political, administrative, martial, economic and religious reforms as embodiments of aspirations or ideals;  
  • Allegory as both a literary and philosophical tool that endowed texts with new and original meanings; 
  • The ‘Byzantine novel’ and utopias: sceneries, characters and endings; 
  • ‘Chivalry’ in Byzantium as a form of utopia, for example in works such as Digenis Akritis
  • Language purism as a form of utopia; 
  • Encomia, hagiography and historiography used to cater to and curate idealised images; 
  • Numismatics, for example the depiction of harmonious imperial families on coinage in defiance of ‘reality’; 
  • Gift-giving and exchange of luxury goods to communicate ideals or aspirations; 
  • The performance of ceremony and ritual to suggest the continuity, legitimacy and permanence of imperial power; 
  • The ideal city in various artistic media, for example frescos and manuscript illuminations; 
  • Utopian ideas conveyed through material objects like seals or epigraphs; 
  • Utopia and manuscript culture, for example the ‘perfect book’, illuminations of utopia/dystopia, and ‘idealised’ writing styles; and, 
  • Byzantium as a utopia in the post-1453 imagination.  

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words, along with a short academic biography in the third person, to the Oxford University Byzantine Society by Friday 19th November 2021 at byzantine.society@gmail.com. Papers should be twenty minutes in length and may be delivered in English or French. As with previous conferences, selected papers will be published in an edited volume, chosen and reviewed by specialists from the University of Oxford. Speakers wishing to have their papers considered for publication should aim to be as close to the theme as possible in their abstract and paper. Nevertheless, all submissions are warmly invited.  

To read the full text of the call for papers, please visit the OUBS website here.

The conference will have a hybrid format, taking place both in Oxford and online. Accepted speakers are strongly encouraged to participate in person, but livestreamed papers are also warmly welcomed. 

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