The Institute of Medieval Studies (IMC) at the University of Leeds seeks to provide an interdisciplinary forum for the discussion of all aspects of Medieval Studies. The conference will be held in Leeds, United Kingdom, running July 1-4, 2013. Paper and session proposals on any topic related to the European Middle Ages are welcome. However, every year, the IMC chooses a specific special thematic strand which - for 2013 - is 'Pleasure'.
Pleasure is a universal human experience, but its components, evaluation, and meaning, and the contexts in which it is, or is not, a legitimate feeling and form of behaviour vary according to cultures and among individuals. Pleasure can be brought on by sensory stimulation, by aesthetic appreciation, by practising an activity, by sharing a common experience with others - or even all of these together (as in the case of the experience of sexual love). The crucial importance of pleasure in medieval living, as well as its multiple facets, constitute the reasons why the IMC has chosen for its special thematic focus for 2013.
Medieval Christianity had a specific cultural attitude towards pleasure, with a strong focus on the division of this world and the afterlife. Pleasure was often either spiritual or corporeal, although sometimes seen as both (as in the mystical/ecstatic experience). Earthly pleasures were first and foremost associated with sin and damnation, and even posed a threat to health, while spiritual pleasures contributed towards salvation and a more harmonious life.
The attitude towards pleasure was ambiguous: with the threat of the devil on one side, and the enticement of heaven on the other, pleasure was linked to both joy and pain. Questions around pleasure were posed in philosophical and theological debates throughout the Middle Ages. Pleasure was nonetheless an experience commonly and eagerly sought for - in all its forms and by all social groups, in and outside Christendom. Aristocratic life is particularly represented as a culture of pleasure in both iconography and literature. The balance between celestial and terrestrial values was renegotiated in the late medieval period, so that pleasure became an aspiration for all.
Areas of discussion could include:
- Diverging cultural attitudes toward pleasure
- Pleasure in non-Christian contexts
- Earthly pleasure versus spiritual pleasure
- Visual and narrative representations of pleasure
- Social and corporeal manifestations of pleasure
- Pleasurable activities
- Individual and collective experiences of pleasure
- Prohibition and condemnation of pleasure
- Chastity, celibacy, fasting, and abstinence
- Love / sexuality / pleasures of the flesh - and their specific cultural expressions
- Medical theories and approaches to pleasure
- Mysticism, spirituality, and pleasure
- Creating and/or experiencing pleasure
- Entertainment and leisure
- Humour and fun
- Material culture and evidence of pleasure
- Pleasure and luxury / cultural goods / worldliness