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The body is a contested battleground of human experience. Human bodies provide a locus for the expression and distribution of power; they are messy, imperfect, and uncontrollable; they change over time; they are subject to weaknesses, illnesses, and suffering. Yet at the same time bodies provide a touchstone for culturally-contingent ideals of beauty and sexuality; they are central to the emotions and to sensate experience; they are crucially but enigmatically linked to notions of mind, soul, and spirit.

On November 2, 2019, Brown University will host the New England Medieval Conference, an annual interdisciplinary gathering of medievalists which has met in the northeast since 1974. This year, participants will be asked to consider how the human body (broadly conceived) was imagined, depicted, and treated in life and death in late antiquity and the middle ages—a topic which has received much critical attention in recent decades. By examining historical, literary, religious, scientific, and medical texts; artistic, architectural, and musical production; manuscripts, documents, material artifacts, and other sources, scholars of all disciplines and specializations are encouraged to reflect on the ways Jews, Muslims, Christians, and “pagans” in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the wider world understood real and metaphorical bodies: for example, how they marked and were marked by race, gender, class, and age; their emotions, psychology, and sensate experiences; how they were clothed and adorned, shaped by religious practice, conceptualized with respect to self and society, subjected to disease and medicine; how they were prepared for and experienced the afterlife, interacted with the environment; how such experiences and understandings built on the classical heritage, and how they helped shape the early modern world.