ℑt is, perhaps, a bit early to do much to prepare for the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Still, "not doing much" is not the same as "doing nothing," and, as many of the Society teach, we ought to model the behaviors we ask of our students--and do we not tell them to start on their work early? Thus, the text sent to the Congress in asking for two sessions for 2019, so that all of us can get started on putting things together for it:
The first session, a paper session titled The Legacy of Tolkien's Medievalism in Contemporary Works, will examine the continuing influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on conceptions of the Middle Ages and medieval prevalent in academic and popular cultures. As has been amply attested, Tolkien’s medievalist work in his Middle-earth corpus has exerted an outsized influence on subsequent fantasy and medievalist popular culture, and, following Paul B. Sturtevant’s assertions in The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination, it is largely or chiefly through popular cultural engagement with the materials that people—both the general public and those who become the students and scholars of the medieval—develop their early understandings of the Middle Ages. Decades on, Tolkien’s influence on popular culture—books, yes, but also movies, tabletop games, video games, television series, music, and other elements of popular understanding—continues to be felt, and continued examination of that influence is therefore warranted.
The second session, a paper session titled Afterlives of Medieval Religion in Contemporary Works, will look at how the post-Tolkien works that are the Society's focus appropriate and misappropriate medieval religious constructions. That formal religion was a central element of the European medieval, broadly conceived, is a conventional wisdom that is reflected both in the typical programming of the Congress and in the pages of Speculum, among others—yet many medievalist works, particularly those in mainstream popular culture, neglect or shy away from overt religiosity, or else they invoke it partially and only to specific effects, and in ways that do not appear to align well to the functions of the medieval church. Untangling the uses, misues, and avoidances of a key element of medieval culture in works that purport to be medieval or medievalist in their intent bears examination, and papers in the proposed session would be directed to those ends.
There'll be more information to come, of course, but having something of an advance will help. (And we mean to make the second the nucleus of a book, anyway, so ideas for it will be a good thing to have around.) We'll look forward to reading!