"Pilgrimage and the Senses" Conference

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Image: William Holman Hunt. The Miracle of the Sacred Fire, Church of the Holy Sepulchre (detail). 1892–1899. Oil and resin on canvas. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Grenville L. Winthrop, Class of 1886 (1942.198)"

With the release of its inaugural issue in 2006, The Senses and Society journal proclaimed a "sensual revolution" in the humanities and social sciences. The ensuing decade has seen a boom in sensory studies, resulting in research networks, museum exhibitions, and a wealth of publications. This interdisciplinary conference hosted at the University of Oxford aims to shed light on how sensory perception shapes and is shaped by the experience of pilgrimage across cultures, faith traditions, and throughout history.

Pilgrimages present an intriguing paradox. Grounded in physical experiences—a journey (real or imagined), encounters with sites and/or relics, and commemorative tokens—they also simultaneously demand a devotional focus on the metaphysical. A ubiquitous and long-lasting devotional practice, pilgrimage is a useful lens through which to examine how humans encounter the sacred through the tools of perception available to us. Focusing on the ways in which pilgrimage engages the senses will contribute to our knowledge of how people have historically understood both religious experience and their bodies as vehicles of devotional participation. We call on speakers to grapple with the challenges of understanding the sensory experience of spiritual phenomena, while bearing in mind that understandings of the senses can vary according to specific cultural contexts. While the five senses are a natural starting point, we are open to considering "sense" in a more general way, such as senses of time and place.


Generous financial support for this conference has been provided by The Oxford Pilgrimage Studies Network, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), Oxford’s History of Art Department, the Oxford Centre for Early Modern Studies, and Camino Pilgrim™ The Confraternity of St James.

Organisers: Helena Guzik and Sylvia Alvares-Correa

For more information please visit our website.

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Contact email: pilgrimagesenses2019@gmail.com