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Ingvild Gilhus

Saturday, August 29, 9:15 | Altes Heizkraftwerk Erfurt
Closing Keynote Address: Bodies, Texts and Otherness – Religious Change in Antiquity and Today

Ingvild Gilhus

This lecture is about the interaction between bodies and texts and how, in periods of religious change, superhuman and other non-human creatures are drawn into this interaction. Such creatures are carriers of otherness. Angels and animals are examples of non-human creatures, which are given agency, promote change and are themselves changed. While a text is a natural habitat for angels, demons and monsters, animals have their natural habitats elsewhere. Creatures of the imagination are different from living beings. However, we should not make too much of the difference between facts (animals) and fiction (angels, demons and monsters). Animals in texts are never “real”. They are constructed for some purpose and made into creatures of the human imagination. Animals as well as angels are given social agency both in the field of asceticism and in contemporary therapeutic religion where they conceptualize social boundaries, experiences, norms, thoughts and emotions. I have chosen two examples. Both have emblematic functions and are prototypes of religious change. One is Christian asceticism in Egypt in the fourth century, the century when Christianity became naturalized in the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean became “dotted with something quite new, sexually frustrated readers, stretching from Egypt to the coast of Scotland” (Lane Fox, “Literacy and Power” p. 148). The other example is the contemporary angel school of the Norwegian princess Märtha Louise. Participants in these stories are monks and New Agers, but also angels, demons, dead people and animals. Change involves place, time, relationship to others, status, body and sometimes religion. The two examples in this lecture are connected to globalisation and to a substitution of one religious ideology and practice for another. How and when do carriers of otherness, in this case angels and animals, promote religious change? How are they changed? When animals are given religious agency, how does this agency reflect upon views of them?

The keynote will take place in the "Alte Heizkraftwerk Erfurt".