Monday 4 June 2012

Conversion and Social Change

Dr Roy Flechner writes:

On 12 May the International Research Network 'Converting the Isles' held its second colloquium in Cambridge, entitled 'Conversion to Christianity and Social Change in the Insular World'. The colloquium consisted of three sessions with a pair of speakers each, and a fourth and final session featured a special lecture by the Cambridge archaeologist Dr Sam Lucy, who spoke about the recent important finds from an excavation near Trumpington, where an Anglo-Saxon 'bed burial' was unearthed, and one of the skeletons was accompanied by a unique gold and garnet cross.

The aim of the colloquium was to explore social economic incentives for and implications of conversion to Christianity in the Insular world. As with past and future colloquia in the series, we endeavoured to pair speakers from different disciplines or whose work relates to different places in the Insular world. The sessions were thematic, which allowed participants to explore the same issues from different angles, using distinct methodologies. For example, Professor Máire Herbert (Cork) and Professor Dawn Hadley (Sheffield) both addressed the question of the manner in which conversion affected gender relations, but one did so as a literary scholar and focusing on Irish material, whereas the other addressed Scandinavian settlers in Anglo-Saxon England from an archaeological perspective. Ordinarily, such talks would feature in separate conferences, but in 'Converting the Isles' we strive to bridge geographical and disciplinary boundaries. And to judge by the experience of the recent colloquium, we have good reasons to be optimistic that the existing gaps can be bridged. It was especially encouraging to see how both the active role played by session moderators and the lively participation by the audience helped to tease out commonalities between talks, and address topics more conceptually. In fact, this series of colloquia owes as much to its audience (consisting of experts and non-experts alike) as it does to the speakers, and it was very pleasing to have in the audience scholars who spoke in the previous colloquium, held in September 2011. Such fruitful group discussions lend more weight to the notion that conversion to Christianity ought to be researched in an interdisciplinary and collaborative way, a notion on which the network is premised.

The talks have been audio-podcasted, and are now available from the network's temporary website. The website also provides details of speakers, talk titles and other materials.

We would like to acknowledge generous financial contributions that enabled this event to take place: from ASNC, the Trevelyan Fund (History Faculty Cambridge), and Trinity College Cambridge.

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