Literature and Identity Formation – An Interdisciplinary Symposium – University of Copenhagen

Centre for Canon and Identity Formation
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Literature and Identity Formation – An Interdisciplinary Symposium

University of Copenhagen, May 20-21, 2011

Literature can play an important role in the formation of various forms of social identity, including national, ethnic, and religious identities. This often happens through a fixation, formal or informal, of literary tradition – in other words the establishment of a canon of literary works. In an attempt to illuminate this aspect of identity formation from an interdisciplinary perspective, we invite scholars working on literatures of different periods and geographical areas to contribute to a symposium exploring the forms and functions of literary canonisation. Our aim is to bring scholars from diverse subjects together in order to throw new light not only on the materials studied, but also on the types of questions asked and the perspectives applied.

The value of cross-cultural comparison lies especially in its potential for revealing how our objects of study are created and conditioned through our own scholarly analyses. Not only is there much to learn about the different ways in which literature is used for purposes of identity formation, but also about the concepts of ‘literature’ and ideas of ‘identity’ that we as scholars bring to our materials and the ways in which we go about our analyses.

For the symposium to be a success, we seek scholars who are willing to present their material in an interdisciplinary context and to address an audience of specialists and non-specialists working in related areas. We particularly welcome theoretically informed analyses of primary material from the pre-modern era, and by restricting papers to the role of literature in identity formation—broadly conceived—we hope to instigate and facilitate a discussion about both objects and contexts of comparison, including, but not limited to, the following points:

  • Forms: Which works or collections of literature are used for purposes of identity formation? How are these canonised? Can different types of identity formation processes be distinguished?
  • Functions: What are the different functions of literature in relation to identity formation? How does the sphere of literature interact with social space and social relations? How is literature used in negotiations of social space, e.g. as a form of cultural capital?
  • Contexts: How and why do institutions influence the use of literature in identity formation? How does this relate to its social and material contexts, e.g. in performance and transmission? How are literary works or heroes fixed in cultural memory?



Friday, May 20
09:30-09:50 Coffee
09:50-10:00 Welcome and introduction
10:00-10:45 Richard Parkinson (British Museum)
                   Literature's Meaning in A Monumental Culture:
                   Canon and Identity in Middle Kingdom Egypt
10:45-11:30 Gonzalo Rubio (Pennsylvania State University)
                   The Inventions of Sumerian: Literature and the Artefacts of Identity
11:30-11:40 Coffee
11:40-12:25 Kim Ryholt (University of Copenhagen)
                   Imitatio and Identity Formation in Ancient Egypt
12:25-13:35 Lunch
13:35-14:20 Daniel L. Selden (University of California Santa Cruz)
                   Reading the Rosetta Stone
14:20-15:05 Tim Whitmarsh (University of Oxford)
                   The Invention of the Novel: Identity and Hybridity
15:05-15:15 Coffee
15:15-16:00 Thomas Habinek (University of Southern California)
                   Fixity and Fluidity in Roman Literature

Saturday, May 21
09:30-10:00 Coffee
10:00-10:45 Doron Mendels (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
                   What do we mean by “identity” when we refer to the literature of the 
                   Hellenistic period? The case of 1 Maccabees”.
10:45-11:30 Andrew J. Nicholson (Stony Brook University)
                   Doxography and Identity in Medieval India
11:30-11:40 Coffee
11:40-12:25 Robert Irwin (School of Oriental and African Studies)
                   Arabiyya and Shu‘ubiyya: The Arabic Language Under Attack
12:25-13:35 Lunch
13:35-14:20 Magali Coumert (Université de Bretagne Occidentale)
                   Where did we come from? The early medieval origines gentium
14:20-15:05 Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)
                   I Have Given Up Trying to Recognize You in the Surging Wave of the Next
                   Moment: The Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle as a System in 
15:05-15:15 Coffee
15:15-16:00 Matthew James Driscoll (University of Copenhagen)
                   ± Icelandic: Defining Íslenzk menning
16:00-          Closing discussion