Til bevillingsoversigt

Animated materiality in the medieval Catholic West

Internationalisation Fellowships


"Animated materiality in the medieval Catholic West" will explore the ritual, devotional, material, textual, mental, sensual and social processes involved in the creation of human-object hybridizations in the medieval Western European Catholic regions. Throughout the high and late Middle Ages, it was thought that inanimate objects and images could become alive. Within a medieval Catholic mind-set, they were thus experienced as and treated like living beings by the faithful through ritual and devotional actions.The project will situate episodes where matter animated in a historical and social context and engage with the material form of the animated objects and their uses in religious practices, the combination of which enabled the human-object relationship and the way it was experienced.


The project aims to investigate the role of religious practice and experience in shaping perceptions of reality, thus forming an occasion where the Middle Ages may be illuminated by the newest breakthroughs of our modern world. The project's results are likely to trigger reflection on how to live and engage with animated objects gained from lived experiences in the medieval past. The experiences of past people may enrich our understanding of animated matter. Significantly, "Animated materiality" will deal with ways of perceiving "life". How something was understood as being alive beyond narrow biological or medical definitions in the past can inform contemporary scientific and social discussions on human-object relationships and how to deal with hybrid bodies as well as artificial life.


The project engage with three different categories of living materiality: 1) Eucharistic miracles, where consecrated hosts and wine transformed into actual flesh and blood and remained as such in the physical world, 2) miraculously animated statues and images, which moved, spoke, or acted in the physical world by themselves, physically or in apparitions and 3) mechanically induced animation where crucifixes, figures of saints and other religious objects would be mechanically made to move and act in ritualized settings. Examples will be found in written, visual and material sources collected through the research libraries of EHESS, the manuscript collections of Bibliothèque nationale de France and the collections of medieval art of Musée de Cluny.


The dissemination of past peoples' experiences with animated materiality can inform us on our own experiences with social robotics, which I expect will become an aspect of ever-increasing importance in our social life. The project thus has the potential to play a part in influencing the way we think about life with animated materiality in its many forms by anchoring present and future experiences in historic precedents. In an age where science is taking quantum leaps in terms of exploring the limits of organic and artificial life-forms, being able to anchor these new experiences in historical discourses and religious/spiritual explorations and experiences will add important nuances to the scholarly discussion, thus adding a human dimension to a predominantly technological discussion.