CfP: Free speech, religion and political culture in northern Europe, 1400-1750

Free speech, religion and political culture in northern Europe, 1400-1750

Edinburgh, 16-17 April 2020

Organization: Alasdair Raffe (University of Edinburgh), Martine Veldhuizen (Utrecht University)

This workshop explores aspects of ‘freedom of speech’ in late medieval and early modern northern Europe.  Freedom of speech was by no means a fundamental right in the late middle ages and early modern period, and yet expressions of critical opinions towards power were always possible and often widespread.  They could be uttered verbally, through the spoken or written word, but also through other sign systems and media, ranging from the sound of musical instruments to heraldic languages.

The Edinburgh workshop will analyse the practice of free speech, paying particular attention to the expression of controversial religious and political ideas.  Much recent scholarship has examined the circulation of news and information, the mobilisation and manipulation of political opinions and the media of public debate.  Other works have broadened our understanding of religious debates and dissent, especially in the two centuries after the Reformation.  Building on this research, speakers at the workshop will examine claims to freedom of religious and political speech.  Some contributors will discuss theoretical arguments in defence of free speech, others the media and linguistic character of ‘free’ utterances.  Papers will assess instances of free speech in historical and literary contexts, and trace the consequences of speaking up for an opinion.  We invite case studies that can help us to address large, pan-European questions regarding free speech.

The workshop will consider the following questions:

  • How did late-medieval and early modern Europeans think about and defend free speech?
  • Which media and forms of language were used to express religious and political ideas? What determined the choice of particular media and forms of language?
  • What kind of messages were spread? Were they subversive or did they legitimise power?
  • How was free speech received? What were the effects of free speech in the development of religious communities, political attitudes and subversive movements?
  • Can ‘European’ patterns be distinguished, or were the practices of free speech determined more by national, provincial and local institutions and norms?

We invite proposals from historians, literary and linguistic scholars.  We would particularly welcome contributions from advanced PhD students and postdoctoral scholars. Papers should be twenty-five minutes in length and given in English.

Abstracts of 300 words, together with a one-page CV, should be sent to Alasdair Raffe (alasdair.raffe@ed.ac.uk) by Friday 6 December 2019.