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Conference information


Since the effect of the Vietnam War on the individual psyche of American soldiers was first defined in the 1980’s as “PTSD” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), trauma has become a central term of psychiatric diagnosis and therapy.  In consequence, terms like ‘traumatic memory’, ‘trauma narrative’, and ‘trauma and testimony’ have been used to describe various individual and collective incidents in both present  (e.g. September 11, 2001; the war in Iraq and Afghanistan up to 2010) and past tense (e.g. the Holocaust).

Trauma, however, is not only a modern concept which derives from 20th century psychiatry: It is an ancient phenomenon which predates our modern societies.  Thus, the question of how the psychological impact and social characteristics of traumacan be defined for each period in history is central to the current trauma‐discourse:  Here, psychiatry meets the Humanities (e.g. history, art history, sociology, politics, religion).

Since traumata affect nearly all areas of social and cultural life, reflection upon them as well as developing the ability to overcome them goes beyond pure medical science. In this frame, biblical and para‐biblical literature plays an important role: It reflects more than 1500 years of coping with traumatic incidents (e.g. temple destruction, exile, exodus, wars, passion narratives, martyrdoms, persecutions), and thus provides a substantial contribution to our understanding of trauma in both historic and modern contexts.

During a joint seniorseminar at the Faculty of Theology in Aarhus (Fall 2009 and Spring 2010), scholars in the fields of Old and New Testament, as well as Patristics, explored how the concept of trauma can be applied to (para‐)biblical texts, by e.g. considering them (a) as historical sources to individual or collective traumatic incidents in Ancient Israel, early Judaism, early Christianity, up until the Persian and Arabic conquests in the 7th century CE (cf. R. G. Hoyland, 1997), (b) as fictitious literature that insinuates, continues, sublimes, or invents traumata, (c) as basic religious literature that has provoked later generations to imitate e.g. martyrdom‐experiences (cf. martyr‐literature), and (d) as therapeutic media which might help modern readers to overcome their contemporary traumata.

Throughout the course of the seminar, it was found that studying Biblical texts as trauma‐literature inspires exegesis, as well as opens up a multiplicity of methods and dimensions which help to broaden and deepen the trauma‐discourse.  It is no coincidence that “Trauma in Biblical Literature” could function as a new paradigm in post‐modern Biblical Studies (cf. e.g. W. S. Morrow, 2004; A. Birnbaum, 2008).

The Conference

The aim of this international and decidedly interdisciplinary conference is to demonstrate how a highly developed expertise in interpreting Biblical and cognate literature is a substantial part of the overall discourse on the historical, literary, social, political, and religious dimensions of trauma in past and present.

The Research Units for Biblical Studies at the University of Aarhus combine strong competencies in literary and historical exegesis of (para‐)biblical and patristic texts with the approach of religious studies, and such a project as this also builds a bridge to strong fields of research in psychiatry and psychology at AU which deal with e.g. autobiography and memory. Participants will include internationally leading scholars, external scholars who are related to the topic as well as scholars from Aarhus University.

Call for Papers

The Call for Papers is now closed. We received a number of interesting proposals, and all submissions have been considered and contacted. Thank you for your interest.