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Sensing the Sacred: Religion and the Senses, 1300 - 1800

Interdisciplinary conference, University of York, 21-22 June 2013

Confirmed keynote addresses from: Chris Woolgar (University of Southampton),
Nicky Hallett (University of Sheffield) and Matthew Milner (McGill University)

Conference home

Religion has always been characterised as much by embodied experience as by abstract theological dispute. From the sounds of the adhān (the Islamic call to prayer), to the smell of incense in the Hindu Pūjā (a ritual offering to the deities), the visual emblem of the cross in the Christian tradition, and the ascetic practices of Theravada Buddhism, sensation is integral to a range of devotional practices. At the same time, the history of many faiths is characterised by an intense suspicion of the senses and the pleasures they offer.

This international, interdisciplinary conference, to be held at the University of York will bring together scholars working on the role played by the senses in the experience and expression of religion and faith in the pre-modern world.

The full conference opens on Friday 21st June, but there will be an opportunity to register early on Thursday evening, plus some informal events, including a Workshop for Postgraduates and a walking tour of York - see the programme for details.

Postgraduate Workshop, Thursday 20th June, 4.30pm (venue: King's Manor)

Places are limited and it is essential to book in advance.  Please contact the organisers to reserve a free place:

Download Conference Abstracts here: Sensing the Sacred Abstracts (PDF , 477kb)

Download Programme here: Sensing the Sacred Programme - Final (PDF , 140kb)

Download conference poster here:Sensing the Sacred poster (PDF , 487kb)

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Conference Booking

How to Book

Download Programme here: Sensing the Sacred Programme - Final (PDF , 140kb)

To book a place please go to the University of York Online Store webpages:

Please book by Thursday 13th June

From the Left side menu, choose Product Catalogue, and scroll down to 'Centre for Renaissance & Early Modern Studies' - click on 'Sensing the Sacred Conference'.

Or link directly to Online Store - Sensing the Sacred conference page:

There are three categories of registration, in each case the registration fee covers lunch and other refreshments on Friday and Saturday - but does not include the Conference Dinner, there is an option to add this when registering.

  • Employed Delegates and Speakers, registration fee £60
  • Registered Postgraduate (not York)/ Unwaged Delegates and Speakers, registration fee £30 (see below re bursaries)
  • York Postgraduates and Staff - please choose this category for free registration (note there are a limited number of free places, and you must be able to provide your York username)

Postgraduate/ Unwaged Bursaries

Thanks to the generosity of the Society for Renaissance Studies and the Royal Historical Society, there are a limited number of fee-waiving bursaries for postgraduate and unwaged speakers or delegates. If you fall into this category and would like to be considered for a bursary please tick the box when registering, and also write a short (max 100 word) statement of need, and send by email to:  The conference organisers will only be able to consider applications backed up by a statement. Successful applicants will be notified and their registration fee will be refunded.

Postgraduate Workshop, Thursday 20th June, 4.30pm
Venue: York Medical Society, see Programme for details

Places are limited and it is essential to book in advance.  Please contact the organisers to reserve a free place:

Conference Dinner

The Conference Dinner is being held on Friday 21st June, 7.30pm - please sign up and pay for this using the Online Store site:


If you experience any problems using the online registration site, please email: We may not be able to respond to you straight away, but will get back to you as soon as possible.


Faceless Mohammed from Nizami's Khamsa (detail) C16th(2)

Venue & Hotels

Accommodation in York

Delegates and Speakers are asked to make their own arrangements to stay in York – Click on the link for a list of hotels and guesthouses:York Hotels and B&B (PDF , 406kb)‌ 

It is hoped this selection will be helpful, but it is not exhaustive. York Tourist Centre, Visit York, has a fuller list of places to stay, see:  

A limited number of rooms are available on University of York Heslington West Campus. To book University rooms go to:

Main Conference Venue and Directions:


Humanities Research Centre (HRC)
Berrick Saul Building
University of York
YO10 5DD

Click here for directions to HRC and public transport links

Berrick Saul location on campus

Thursday 20 June:

Early Registration, Postgraduate Workshop and Drinks Reception will all be held in York Medical Society, 23 Stonegate, York YO1 8AW, for directions please see:

Photo of entrance to York Medical Society
23 Stonegate

Call for Papers

CFP is now closed

The burgeoning field of sensory history offers a fertile ground for reconsideration of religious studies across disciplinary boundaries. We welcome papers from anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, historians, literary scholars, musicologists, philosophers, theologians, and any other interested parties. Possible topics might include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Synaesthesia: how do religious rituals blur sensory boundaries, and challenge sensory hierarchies?
  • Iconography and iconoclasm: how might we conceive the ‘rites of violence’ in sensory terms? How does iconography engage the non-visual senses?
  • The senses and conversion: how are the senses used to elicit conversion?
  • Material cultures of religion: what role do the senses play in mediating between bodies and sacred objects?
  • The senses and gender: are sensing practices gender specific?
  • The inner (spiritual) senses: how do they relate to the external (bodily) senses?
  • Sensory environments: to what extent do environments shape devotional practices and beliefs, and vice versa? How do we use our senses to orient ourselves in space?
  •  Affect: what role do the senses play in the inculcation of religious affect?

Proposals (max. 300 words) for papers of 20 minutes are welcomed both from established scholars, and from postgraduate students. Applications from panels of three speakers are encouraged, as well as individual proposals. They should be sent to conference organisers Robin Macdonald, Emilie Murphy, and Elizabeth Swann at by 6pm on 5 November 2012.

Download CFP here (pdf document):

Download Conference Abstracts here: Sensing the Sacred Abstracts (PDF , 477kb)


Radha festival

Faceless Mohammed from Nizami's Khamsa (detail) C16th(2)


Conference Organisers: Robin Macdonald, Emilie Murphy and Elizabeth Swann

Contact us: