dr. B.S. Hellemans
At present I am pursuing four lines of research, which together are informed by broad concerns with: 1) notions of change and continuity in long-term processes as they appear in religious and intellectual culture between c. 1100 and 1600; 2) a holistic, anthropological, attitude towards historical sources. I consider texts, images, architecture, objects, rituals, theatre, and music as part of my source material.
1. History of historiography, historical anthropology, history of religion, with special attention to Paris between c. 1200 and 1300
My doctoral and postdoctoral research focused on historiography, the history of religion (especially the culture of images and the rise of lay culture in the 13th century) and cultural history (with particular attention to language and semiotics). It placed special emphasis on the notions of time and debates on Incarnation. My method involved treating the phenomenon known as the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the Incarnation) from a fresh perspective. Many assumptions about the meaning of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), repetition in the culture of images (in Gothic art especially), the meaning of rituals and the relation between text and image are challenged. My book, La Bible Moralisée: une oeuvre à part entière. Temporalité, sémiotique et creation au XIIIe siècle pioneered new ways of looking at the historical writing of a religious culture, one which integrates the culture of images within the language of intellectual history.
Between 2006 and 2010 I was involved as postdoc in the collaborative research project The Pastness of the Religious Past. The outcome of this project, a book with the title On Religion and Memory, is published with Fordham University Press in New York. I am one of the editors. The book seeks to map the history of religious thought from Augustine to the early twenty-first century. It uses sources in several languages, visual art and music, and seeks to employ a truly interdisciplinary perspective in intellectual history which breaks the essentialist duality of ‘religion’ and Enlightenment ‘rationality’. This project was part of the international research program ‘The Pastness of the Religious Past’, directed by Prof. W. Otten (UU/University of Chicago) and Prof. M.B. Pranger (main applicant; UvA) in collaboration with Prof. S. Nichols (Johns Hopkins University). This postdoc project has been completed and received a positive evaluation in Spring 2011
2. History of knowledge, especially pre-modern notions of creativity and novelty, in a global and comparative context; material culture and art as tools for knowledge acquisition; the relation between pre-modern and modern ideals of creativity and individuality
Images, Improvisations, Sound and Silence, c. 1000-1800 - Degree Zero is the result of the Internationalization Grant Degree Zero of Sound and Image, running from 2014 to 2017. I was the project leader. Focusing on texts, material culture, visual art, architecture and music, the project addressed the topic of creation in a period of great change and novelty, between the beginnings of the medieval intellectual tradition and the Enlightenment. The project represented the consolidation of a research network in the field of interdisciplinary cultural analysis of anthropology, history, theology, philosophy, literature, art history, semiotics and musicology. Scholars in the project worked together with artists, musicians, and writers.
The project collaborated with following institutions: the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), the Royal Academy for the Arts and Sciences in the Netherlands (KNAW), the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, the Institut Franco-Allemand/Sciences Historiques et Sociales in Frankfurt (Germany), the Institut national d'histoire de l'art Paris (France), and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
3. Anthropological approaches to intellectual history, historiography of philosophy, semiotics, life-writing and biography, with special attention to the twelfth-century Renaissance
Presently I am working on an historical anthropological monograph dealing with form, change and time in Peter Abelard's oeuvre. This bookproject bears the preliminary title Peter Abelard and the Varieties of the Self and it reflects my new interest in sustainability and fragility in the history of knowledge in marginal groups. The book on Abelard dwells on the picture of an idiosyncratic thinker who developed a body of work that covers the entire range of the trivium. Where some have stressed the authenticity of Abelard, others have asked whether he is not a troublemaker seeking conflict with orthodoxy. I think this question of Abelard’s identity is poorly posed. The persona of Abelard is at once historically true and fictional, and therefore we need to search for a diversity of interpretations. What we have is Abelard’s work which is heavily marked with a dialectic stamp, and in which the notion of an ever-changing debate (disputatio) is more important than the seeking of one single truth.
4. Methods in Cultural History, history of knowledge acquisition, sustainability of knowledge, history of the senses, marginalised knowledge, disability studies, gender studies
In January 2015 I received a grant from the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies and the Lorentz Centre for work on Perspectives on Diversity. The Cultural Life of Absence. This reflects my interest in knowledge acquisition among the handicapped. Often handicaps are described in terms of the absence of a ‘something’ (a sense, a limb) thus imposing a limited view on the way people with a handicap compensate by other means when they deal with reality. This project seeks to explore the social life of absence, and stresses the dialogue between handicap and society in past and present. It also explicitly seeks to better understand how claims made by society with respect to the meaning of handicaps are often romanticized and how, in turn, these sidelined groups have organized themselves in order to resist these claims by creating fresh definitions of the self, the group and the handicap. An international workshop on Perspectives of Diversity has been organized in January 2016 in the Lorentz Centre in Leiden (NL).
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