The Aesthetics of Devotion in Medieval England

The Aesthetics of Devotion in Medieval England
A one-day symposium hosted by the Department of English at the University of Chicago and co-sponsored by Frederic Ives Carpenter Fund, the Medieval Studies Workshop, the ASSC, and the Nicholson Center for British Studies

Friday, October 25th 2019
10:00 – 5:00
SIFK Classroom – 5737 University Ave

This symposium brings together three scholars whose work, in varied ways, has generated new insights into the devotional cultures of medieval England. At this one-day symposium, we invite them to explore issues of devotional aesthetics in their respective archives. How did medieval spiritual writings seek to provoke and steer readers’ responses? In what ways did the design of a text reflect conceptions of who would be using it and why? How might we understand issues of (for instance) ecclesiastical hierarchy, monastic discipline, or lay piety to have been negotiated through formal and poetic decisions that leave their traces in medieval works we continue to encounter today? Our choice of the term ‘aesthetics’ is meant to call on the word’s roots, in the ancient Greek term for sense perception. Focus on perception—or, more generally, on the experiential uptake of religious texts and objects—both follows from recent invocations of ‘form’ in medieval literary studies and also departs from them. Aesthetics seeks to push form into motion, into those dynamic processes of apprehension that generate meaning and experience. We look forward to a day of conversation about the interplay between English medieval religious writing and the sensory, affective, and interpretive responses it sought to incite.


10:00 Thomas O’Donnell (Fordham University) “The Common Life and Marks of Erasure at Durham Cathedral Priory” with a response by Michelle Karnes (University of Notre Dame)
Lunch provided (RSVP requested)

1:00 Leslie Lockett (Ohio State University) “Dialogue, Devotion, and Episcopal Culture in the Old English Soliloquies” with a response by Emily Butler (John Caroll University)

3:00 Catherine Sanok (University of Michigan) “About Face: Addressing the Vernicle in Late Medieval England” with a response by Katharine Breen (Northwestern University)
Reception following final talk

Call for Papers and Respondents: Medieval Studies Workshop

The Medieval Studies Workshop welcomes paper proposals on the Middle Ages, Medieval Studies, and historical Medievalisms from PhD students for the 2019-20 academic year. The workshop discusses works-in-progress from scholars across the humanities, including Art History, English, Divinity, History, Music, Romance and Germanic Languages and Literatures, Linguistics, Comparative Literature, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Presenters circulate a piece of writing—a seminar paper or an excerpt from an in-progress chapter or article—a week in advance of the workshop. A respondent begins the discussion with a summary of the piece and a few opening questions. If you are interested in serving as a respondent this year, please email the co-coordinators.

If you would like to present your work-in-progress, please submit a brief proposal by email to both Jo Nixon ( and Samantha Pellegrino ( by Friday, September 13.

The workshop meets alternating Fridays from 12:30-2:00. Please contact either of the co-coordinators if you would like to be subscribed to our listserv.