Call for papers: Matters of Magic between Archaeology, Anthropology, and History (deadline extended!)

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Call for papers: Matters of Magic between Archaeology, Anthropology, and History

Date: 20-22 November 2020

Location: Zalău, Romania

Organised by the History and Art Museum of Zalău, Romania


In this interdisciplinary conference between archaeology, history, and anthropology we aim to investigate ‘matters of magic’, both in the sense of untangling the vagueness of the concept of magic and in the understanding of its materiality. Here, we use magic as an analytical concept rather than an empirical one and thus through magic we understand a whole range of religious and spiritual practices, ancient, old, and new. The use of the term magic aims at focusing on the materiality and practice of religious and spiritual beliefs and therefore is an attempt from the point of view of anthropology and history to learn from the very material focus of archaeology.  At the same time, we wish to convey the social and historical embeddedness of such practices.

In archaeology, modern scholars have so far impassibly and isochronally used the term magic ambiguously in order to encompass a series of processes that span from divination to healing practices or other similar practice known from Antiquity. Consequently, a new sub-discipline emerged as a component of the study of religions, broadly defined as ‘ancient magic’ which still desires proper definition and methodological approaches, although David Frankfurter`s edited Guide to Ancient Magic (Leiden-Boston 2019) has been pivotal in setting the path for a better contemporaneous understanding of ‘ancient magic’.

Similarly, the term magic in anthropology has been vaguely defined and often used to mark the ‘Other’, to freeze both non-Western subjects or the West’s internal ‘Others’ in premodern times, the term having been often ‘employed as a counterpoint to liberal understandings of modernity’s rational progress’, especially as magic has been construed as threatening (see Greenwood 2009 or Federici 2004). However, we wish to employ a more symmetrical approach between magical and other human practices (similar to Bloor’s Principles of Symmetry) and to focus on how such practices make the world, not just how they view it.

This interdisciplinary conference wants to offer scholars the context in further enquiring about magic as an analytical concept across a long time-span, therefore we invite submissions that deal with magical practices from different geographical and historical periods: ancient forms of magic (new materiality of magic spanning from Prehistory to Late Antiquity in the Mediterranean world and the Near East), different traditional forms of magic, neo-pagan and neo-liberal forms of magic.

The language of the conference is English. The conference has no participation fee and the organisers will cover accommodation and meals (19-21 November 2020) but will not cover transportation.

Keynote speakers:

●       Sorin Gog, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, sociology and anthropology of religions

●       Sorin Nemeti, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca,Roman religion and ancient magic

Submission Guidelines:

To participate, please submit a 300-word abstract in English together with your name, discipline, and affiliation in one document to Dan Deac, for archaeology and ancient history and Agota Abran, for anthropology and modern history with the subject: Matters of Magic Conference Submission.

Submission Deadline: 15 May 2020

Notification of Acceptance: 1 June 2020

In case the borders will still be closed in November, we are thinking about an online version of the conference as well.

Main organisers:

●       Ágota Ábrán, PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology

●       Dan Deac, PhD in Ancient History