Can We Talk About Religion, Please? Medievalism’s Eschewal of Religion, and Why it Matters

Can We Talk About Religion, Please? Medievalism’s Eschewal of Religion, and Why it Matters

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Can We Talk About Religion, Please? Medievalism’s Eschewal of Religion, and Why it Matters

By Richard Utz

The Year’s Work in Medievalism, Volume 28 (2013)

Introduction: With this essai I would like to advocate for a reconsideration of religion as an essential topic for medievalism studies. To understand why such reconsideration is necessary, examine the following titles published in recent issues of Studies in Medievalism and The Year’s Work in Medievalism:

  • Reincorporating the Medieval: Morality, Chivalry, and Honor in Post-Financial-Meltdown Corporate Revisionism
  • Knights of the Ownership Society: Economic Inequality and Medievalist Film
  • Corporate neo-Beowulf: Ready or Not, Here We Come
  • Unsettled Accounts: Corporate Culture and George R. R. Martin’s Fetish Medievalism
  • Historicizing Neumatic Notation: Medieval Neumes as Cultural Artifacts of Early Modern Times
  • Hereward the Dane and the English, but Not the Saxon: Kingsley’s Racial Anglo-Saxonism
  • From Romance to Ritual: Jessie L. Weston’s Gawain
  • The Cinematic Sign of the Grail
  • Destructive Dominae: Women and Vengeance in Medievalist Films
  • Neomedievalism Unplugged • Baphomet Incorporated, A Case Study in Neomedievalism
  • “It’s the Middle Ages, Yo!”: Race, Neo/medievalisms, and the World of Dragon Age
  • A Quest for the Black Knight: Casting People of Color in Arthurian Film and Television
  • Dante as Sam Spade: Seymour Chwast’s Adaptation of the Commedia
  • The Deflation of the Medieval in Joyce’s Ulysses
  • Smearing the Medieval: Architectural Objects and Time Travel in Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • The More Things Change: Maria Edgeworth’s “The Modern Griselda”
  • (Re)casting the Past: The Cloisters and Medievalism
  • The Pocket Venus: Iconography and Intimacy in Victorian Miniatures
  • Making Sacrifices: Beowulf and Film

At a first glance, “we” should pat ourselves on the back: Medievalism studies, unlike other areas in the humanities, has always been a joyously multi-disciplinary field, and essays on architecture, the arts, cinema, corporate identity, film, gender issues, the graphic novel, historical fiction, the modernist novel, music, scholarship, television, and video games would indicate that our work represents a comprehensive examination of the reception of medieval culture in postmedieval times.

A look at Tison Pugh and Angela Weisl’s recent introductory study, Medievalisms: Making the Past in the Present, would confirm this picture: The authors adduce a prodigious list of topics, revealing Dante’s changing position in the cultural imaginary; postmedieval authors’ anxieties of influence when they engage with medieval or medievalizing forebears; fantasies of innocence in medievalistic literature for children; the mythical masculinities of medieval outlaw (Robin) and king (Arthur); filmmakers’ anachronistic dreams of the medieval past; the transcendent powers of music and art at overcoming the temporal chasm separating postmedieval from medieval subjects; the escapist nature of games and reenactments; and modern views of the violence permeating premodern laws and antidemocratic political organizational forms. Within these thematic chapters, Pugh and Weisl discuss religious architecture, the Antioch Chalice, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hildegard von Bingen, Chris Newby’s 1993 movie The Anchoress, and the afterlife of liturgical music and performance. However, just like the recent issues of Studies in Medievalism and The Year’s Work in Medievalism, they do not include a chapter examining the specific role of religion. Like the African-American characters who silently populate the backdrop of North American modernist narrative, religion in Medievalism studies is omnipresent, but plays in the dark as a subservient subset of other preferred and prevalent scholarly categories.

You can follow Richard Utz on Twitter @ricutz

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