Call for Papers: "The Threat of the Body: Salvation in Medieval Science and Medicine"

The conception of Merlin

The Threat of the Body: Salvation in Medieval Science and Medicine

25-26 June 2020, University of Edinburgh



The aim of this conference is to examine the effect of routine embodiment on salvation in the Middle Ages. How might falling ill, bathing, pregnancy, practicing magic, or being born with a disability influence or jeopardise salvation? In a world where the effects of the body might have spiritual consequences, the Middle Ages offers promising scope for the exploration of the history of medicine and theology. This conference specifically addresses the tensions between salvation and embodiment surrounding the ebb and flow of daily life.

During the Middle Ages, the body’s deviation from normalcy through illness, pregnancy, infertility, or disease, would influence spiritual health. How might contracting leprosy, a well-known symbol of sin, influence salvation? As such, this conference specifically looks at how medical remedies might be employed to counter the harm to the body as well as to the soul. This conference analyses the relationship between soul-health and embodiment through the lenses of literature, history, theology, medicine, and science.

In order to better understand medieval presentations of medicine, medical and scientific professionals have been invited. A specific session will offer the chance to liaise and ask questions with modern medical practitioners. For a copy of the CfP, download a PDF version here.


Suggested Topics

  • Pregnancy
  • Infertility
  • Breathing
  • Bathing
  • Practising magic
  • Abnormal births and monstrosity
  • Disability
  • Ageing
  • Sleeping
  • Intercourse
  • Disease
  • Disfigurement
  • Plague
  • Aliens and outsiders
  • Influence of cosmology or alchemy



  • Barbara Newman, the John Evans Professor of Latin; Professor of English, Religious Studies, and Classics, Northwestern University, will speak on pregnancy and salvation.
  • Richard Kieckhefer, Professor of Religious Studies, Northwestern University, will speak on magic and salvation.
  • Corinne Saunders, Professor of Medieval Studies, Durham University, will speak on affective embodiment and salvation.
  • Elizabeth Archibald, Professor of Medieval Literature, Durham University, will speak on bathing and salvation.
  • Katherine Harvey, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow, will speak on the episcopal body and salvation.

Medical Professionals

  • Damian Mole, Professor of Clinical and Experimental Surgery, Edinburgh University
  • Deborah Mackay, Professor of Medical Epigenetics, Southampton University

  • Richard Weller, Reader in Deanery of Clinical Sciences, University of Edinburgh, and Honorary Consultant Dermatologist for NHS Lothian



Publication of conference proceedings is intended.



This conference is organised by Dr Natalie Goodison, Junior Anniversary Fellow at IASH, University of Edinburgh. She is a specialist on embodiment in medieval romance. Her project at IASH focuses on women’s sexual lives, salvation, and birthing abnormal offspring.

To speak at this conference, send in short abstract (c. 300 words) to by 16 April 2020.



We will continue to monitor the situation with coronavirus. Applications of interest are still invited.