The impact of royal martyr saints as prestigious identification figures within medieval dynastic struggles has been examined by a multitude of scholars. Europe’s and especially Scandinavia’s hagiographic landscape provides many examples of slain rulers ascending to sainthood as a reward for their deaths that supposedly occurred in service of Christianity. Hagiography and folklore subsequently immersed these deaths in a light of martyrdom and voluntariness. But how exactly did the concept of voluntary martyrdom itself shape politics from the conversion period of the late 10th century to the 12th and early 13th centuries, yet another transformative period oftentimes associated with political upheaval and significant changes in religious structures? This workshop seeks to explore the period’s mechanics of power, participation and governance through discourses of martyrdom. While there will be a focus on the Scandinavian cultural sphere of influence, scholars specializing in other regions of Europe are more than welcome to provide comparative insight.
In our context, martyrdom is to be understood as the (alleged) act of giving one’s life voluntarily in service of a greater cause. Using this broader definition of martyrdom instead of focusing on officially recognized saints of the Western Christian mainstream, we might include pagans or religious dissidents, saint-like folkloric figures, fallen war participants (especially crusaders and civil war combatants), as well as persons who might not have actually been physically harmed for their beliefs, but allegedly expressed their willingness to suffer and die. As such, there is also little to no clear distinction between martyrdom and specific forms of noble/heroic death, or suicide. All these concepts might overlap, categorizations being a product of discursive interpretation within the sources, in relation to social norms and authorial intent.
The workshop arises from an associated subproject within the multidisciplinary research unit Voluntariness, based at the Universities of Erfurt, Jena and Oldenburg. Together, we follow the assumption that voluntariness is not the opposite of constraint. Instead we assume that it has an antinomic structure, being exercised as an act of freedom, yet dependent on various conditions that lead to certain behaviors being endorsed, expected or even demanded. Inspired by governmentality studies, we understand voluntariness as both a potential means of political and social participation, and as a tool of governance. Therefore, we scrutinize it within the three analytical dimensions of (social) norm, (political or economic) resource, and discursive strategy.
Some logistical notes:
The event is set to take place on site, assuming that covid-restrictions will allow it. For speakers, travel and accommodation costs may be covered with the research unit’s funds; we are also happy to offer you a speaker's fee of 200,00 EUR. Our Academic Coordinator can make room arrangements in Erfurt for you if need be.