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The 2016 Scientiae Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits
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7/5/2016 to 7/7/2016
When: 7/5/2016
Where: St. Anne's College, University of Oxford
Contact: Richard Raiswell

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Proposals are invited for the fifth annual Scientiae conference on disciplines of knowing in the early modern world (roughly 1400-1800). The major premise of this conference series is that knowledge during this period was inherently interdisciplinary, involving complex mixtures of theories, practices and objects, which had yet to be separated into their modern ‘scientific’ configurations. Although centred on attempts to understand and control the natural world, Scientiae addresses natural philosophy, natural history, and the scientiae mixtae within a wide range of related fields, including but not restricted to Biblical exegesis, medicine, artisan practice and theory, logic, humanism, alchemy, magic, witchcraft, demonology, divinatory practices, astronomy, astrology, music, antiquarianism, experimentation and commerce. Attention is also given to mapping intellectual geographies through the tools of the digital humanities.

Scientiae Oxford 2016 will take place July 5-July 7, 2016, at St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford. The theme will be “Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits.”

Demons and spirits were an integral part of the early modern world; they were part of nature and their actions could be detected across the breadth of creation. As such, an awareness and understanding of the nature and behaviour of spirits—whether benevolent or malevolent—was fundamental to the knowledge-making practices that characterised the period between 1400 and 1700.

Yet the discourses centring upon demons and spirits were not static. Far from being closed and accepted uncritically, what constituted accurate, authentic and verifiable knowledge of demons and spirits—and their field of action—shifted in response to changes in the intellectual priorities of different communities of practices over time. As much as any other scientia, these discourses were reworked and reconditioned by the far-reaching changes in religion and natural philosophical practice that are often singled out as diagnostic of the period. But they were also challenged by new understandings about the relationship between authority and experience, by debates over the nature of evidence and knowledge acquisition, and the sorts of conclusions it was they appropriate to draw from such apparent “facts.”

Papers are invited for two inter-related sessions for Scientiae 2016 that investigate issues to do with the knowledge of demons and spirits (both in the sense of human knowledge of demons and spirits, and demonic and spiritual knowledge of creation) and their field of action in the period loosely bounded by the years 1400 and 1700.

Proposals are welcome from researchers studying the early modern cultures and disciplines of knowing at any stage in their career. The proposals can be for individual papers, complete panels, roundtables or workshops, according to the following guidelines:

Individual paper: A 300-word abstract for papers of maximum 20 minutes.

Panel Proposal: Each panel will be 1 hour 30 minutes and must include three speakers. The panel organiser should send a proposal containing three 200-word abstracts for papers of 20 minutes each together with an overall account of the panel (max. 300 words).

Roundtable: Each roundtable will also last 1 hour 30 minutes, must include at the very least one chair and one or two respondents, and must engage the audience. The roundtable proposal should formulate a clear question and provide a rationale for it of c. 400-600 words.

Workshop (new at Scientiae 2016): A workshop is an opportunity for teaching and learning in some area of early modern intellectual and/or material culture. Examples might include period instruments, laboratory practices, pedagogic or art techniques, digital humanities and print culture. A proposal of 400-800 words should be provided by the organiser(s), together with details about the organisation, duration, and presenters. Workshop leaders will also need to work out logistical issues well in advance, with limited assistance from on-site conference convenors. Advance sign-up by participants will be required.

Please submit abstracts and a short biography (no more than 300 words) to Richard Raiswell at by 10 November 2015. You may also use the online form found here:

Contact Info: 

Richard Raiswell,
Dept. of History,
Univ. of PEI

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