Reshaping the World: Utopias, Ideals and Aspirations in Late Antiquity and Byzantium

24th International Graduate Conference of the Oxford University Byzantine Society

‘Utopia’ is relatively understudied in the field of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies. Major existing works tend to focus on either Late Byzantine philosophy – for example Siniossoglou (2011) on Gemistos Plethon – or on certain aspects of utopia in Late Antiquity; most recently Neil and Simic (2020) on utopia and memory and Papadopoulos (2021) on the ‘idea of Rome’.

Our conference, however, seeks to encompass not only the more well-studied philosophical and theological avenues of the subject, but also to reach out to, and integrate, research from the disciplines of history, philology, art history, archaeology and material culture studies. To that end, we encourage submissions encompassing, but not limited to, the following themes:

  • Theological and/or philosophical usage of utopias in the depictions of the ideal society, of the afterlife, or to serve a particular worldview;
  • Political, administrative, martial, economic and religious reforms as embodiments of aspirations or ideals;
  • Allegory as both a literary and philosophical tool that endowed texts with new and original meanings;
  • The ‘Byzantine novel’ and utopias: sceneries, characters and endings;
  • ‘Chivalry’ in Byzantium as a form of utopia, for example in works such as Digenis Akritis;
  • Language purism as a form of utopia;
  • Encomia, hagiography and historiography used to cater to and curate idealised images;
  • Numismatics, for example the depiction of harmonious imperial families on coinage in defiance of ‘reality’;
  • Gift-giving and exchange of luxury goods to communicate ideals or aspirations;
  • The performance of ceremony and ritual to suggest the continuity, legitimacy and permanence of imperial power;
  • The ideal city in various artistic media, for example frescos and manuscript illuminations;
  • Utopian ideas conveyed through material objects like seals or epigraphs;
  • Utopia and manuscript culture, for example the ‘perfect book’, illuminations of utopia/dystopia, and ‘idealised’ writing styles; and,
  • Byzantium as a utopia in the post-1453 imagination.

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words, along with a short academic biography in the third person, to the Oxford University Byzantine Society by 19 November 2021 to the organisers. Papers should be twenty minutes in length and may be delivered in English or French. As with previous conferences, selected papers will be published in an edited volume, chosen and reviewed by specialists from the University of Oxford. Speakers wishing to have their papers considered for publication should aim to be as close to the theme as possible in their abstract and paper. Nevertheless, all submissions are warmly invited.

The conference will have a hybrid format, taking place both in Oxford and online. Accepted speakers are strongly encouraged to participate in person, but livestreamed papers are also warmly welcomed.