Deadline approaching: Contributions to an edited volume on "Prophecy, prognosis, and politics. Perspectives from the history of persons from antiquity to the modern age"

Christian Hoffarth's picture
Call for Publications
October 15, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Ancient History, Contemporary History, Intellectual History, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, Political History / Studies

King Croesus and the Pythia of Delphi, Frederick Barbarossa and Hildegard of Bingen, Ronald Reagan and Joan Quigley: At all times, political actors had contact with supposedly prophetic and otherwise clairvoyant persons. Without wanting to promote any conspiracy theories one can argue, with P.-C. Mayer-Tasch, that in an allegedly secularized modern era, not less than in premodern times, "the prophetic in all its variants has to be counted among the constitutive elements of the political."

It comes as no surprise, then, that especially scholars of intellectual history have recently shown strong interest in the relation of prophecy and politics. Among other things, they were able to demonstrate that prophecies and divinations must always be understood as political statements directed towards their own present. What is still widely unclear, however, is if and how certain predictions could actually deploy political influence.

To find an answer to these questions, the focus must be shifted to the actors. In order to allow a diachronic perspective on the phenomenon and to identify constants and developments the planned volume seeks to gather individual studies on the relations of political actors and persons acting as prophets and prognosticators from antiquity to the modern age. Special stress shall be laid on the biographical dimensions.

Guiding questions could be (but are not limited to):

  • How do relations between political actor and predictor come about? Does the political actor actively seek the counsel of the predictor, or is the predictor actively seeking proximity to the political actor? Which reasons for the approach can be identified? Are any third party brokers involved and which role do they play?

  • Of what exact nature is the relationship between political actor and predictor? Is it conceptualized as personal or professional, as hierarchical or equal? Do we deal with longer-term institutionalized or situational, isolated arrangements? What are the foundations of trust between the parties?

  • What specific kind of influence does the predictor exert on political decision making and acting? Which fields of political knowledge and action are the predictions concerning? Is it possible to tell if the political actor would have acted differently without the predictor’s influence?

  • How does the political actor themself assess the role of the predictor? Are they sensible of the fact that the predictor is playing a part in their political acting, and do they admit it? Or do they keep their relations with them a secret? Do they rationalize the influence they allow the predictor, or do they value the predictions especially for the alleged ‘overrational’ insights they allow? Is the relation between politics and prediction viewed as one of rationality and irrationality after all?

  • How do contemporaries judge the relationship of political actor and predictor and the latter’s significance for political decisions and actions? Are accusations put forward, and who do they target? Do political and social opponents use their knowledge of the relationship of the predictor and the political actor to damage the political actor?

We invite proposals for contributions in English or German language which focus on specific examples of contacts and relations between predictors and political actors. Please send a short abstract (max 400 words) to by 15 October 2018.

The volume is planned to be published in the series “Bensheimer Forschungen zur Personengeschichte” with Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Contact Info: 

Christian Hoffarth
Institut für Personengeschichte
Hauptstraße 65
64625 Bensheim