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Calls for Papers

Profanity: The Obscene and the Secular in Early Cultures

2018 Early Cultures Graduate Student Conference

“Profanity: The Obscene and the Secular in Early Cultures”

University of California, Irvine

Conference Date: October 12th & 13th, 2018


Paper Proposal Deadline: July 1st, 2018

The Center for Early Cultures at UCI is pleased to announce our 2018 Conference – “Profanity: The Obscene and the Secular in Early Cultures.” Our keynote speaker will be Joel Slotkin, Associate Professor of English at Towson University, whose scholarship on monstrous bodies in his recent book, Sinister Aesthetics: The Appeal of Evil in Early Modern English Literature, will provide valuable insights into the nature of profanity and obscenity in the period.


Although we might colloquially understand “profanity” to be a term for obscene or offensive language, we ought not to overlook its etymological root in the “profane,” or the secular, more generally. Indeed, as this link exemplifies, coarse language seems to have been equated historically with worldly language, or the language of those who are tied to the profane world, as opposed to the sacred world, either circumstantially or by choice. This year’s Early Cultures Conference seeks to investigate the complex nuances of these dual definitions of “profanity” – at once a designation of obscenity and of secularity – and the way they relate to their opposing poles: decorum and the sacred.


I concord with these considerations of secularity and obscenity in the past, we are interested in work that investigates modern uses of profanity and the profane, especially the ways in which those uses knowingly or unknowingly draw upon the past to authorize them. Indeed, we hope that in a conference where we are continually considering the values and sensibilities of the past, we will also shed light on the moral, spiritual, and worldly attachments of the present. Building upon the interdisciplinary nature of the Center for Early Cultures at UCI, we hope to bring in papers that approach the nature of profanity and the profane from a variety of disciplines, including but not limited to History, Visual Studies, Comparative Literature, Classics, English, and Drama.


Possible topics for papers may include:


• Obscene, offensive, insulting, or inflammatory features in early works

Contemptus mundi thinkers who rejected the profane

• Works that develop or value the profane against sacred history

• Profane works that flaunt decorum or rhetorical conventions

• The tension between the sacred and profane in conceptualizations of political power

• The elision/restoration of obscenity in early works for modern audiences

We invite abstracts of 300 words or less, accompanied by a 1-2 page CV, to be sent to by July 1st, 2018.