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University of Silesia in Katowice

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Faculty of Humanities
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The so-called Viking Age was a period of intensive and varied contacts between Scandinavians and the peoples occupying other parts of Europe and beyond. What often resulted from such cultural, political, and economic encounters were the ideas and phenomena which may be broadly categorized under the term of “otherness” or “alterity”. Understandably then, in their various senses and contexts, they are also markedly present in the Old Norse/Icelandic literary corpus frequently playing pivotal roles there.

The saga literature abounds in the instances of variously categorized “others” and variously conceptualised alterities, both those found outside and those present within the Scandinavian world. Manifested in the differences of language, religion, outlooks, status, race, culture, and gender, they all encourage and provoke discussions concerning their diverse aspects. Among them, to list but a few, are the areas related to the construction of the mental worldview in the medieval North, mechanisms of self-identification within and outside one’s own cultural and/or ethnic sphere, the categories and definitions of “otherness”, and the roles of its images in various saga subgenres. The consideration of these problems may tell us more about the mentalities of medieval Scandinavians and may reveal not only negative, but also ambivalent overtones and degrees of “otherness” and alterities as social and cultural categories.

Since the Slavs (the Vindr) were among the groups considered as “other” by medieval Scandinavians and since this classification resulted in their both negative and positive judgements, we think it opportune to invite the discussion of the phenomena related to otherness in the sagas to take place during the 19th International Saga Conference in Poland, in Katowice and Kraków, in 2025.

Katowice is a vibrant city, set at the heart of the Silesian Metropolitan Area and at the crossroads of cultures and influences. Its often troubled past located between Silesian, Polish, German, and Czech identities, and its proximity to the present and past state borders, make Katowice a place where “otherness” was frequently both a divisive and connecting classification. Kraków, founded in the early Middle Ages, holds a prominent place as the former royal capital of Poland. Several sites in the city are included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage.

Both cities are conveniently located and connected to several international airports and offer a choice of excellent hotel accommodation and first-rate conference facilities. For the convenience of the Saga Conference participants, most of the conference will be held in Katowice, while the excursion day will begin with a plenary lecture held at Kraków’s Jagiellonian University.

The proposed thematic strands of the 2025 Saga Conference

Christianity and pagan beliefs

The Viking Age saw the advent of Christianity in the North. This new, “other” religion eventually became dominant and also left its mark on how, for example, non-Christians (be it in Northern Europe or elsewhere) and their religion(s) were presented in written sources produced in the Christianised North. This strand invites papers aiming to explore the ways in which religion was used as a marker for the inclusion and the exclusion of individuals or groups and thus also as a means for legitimising claims of cultural, political or economic dominance. Thus, the strand also invites discussions related to the sphere of religion as a domain of cultural and political confrontation in the world of the sagas.

Meeting the other in the mythical world

Alterity as an analytical category for studying the mythical world may help to highlight and explore the issues that do not always fall neatly into binary schemes. The mythical world, with its supernatural and paranormal elements present in the sagas, offers numerous examples of confrontations with various kinds of alterities. The relationships between giants and gods is such an instance, as are numerous examples of shapeshifting with deceitful intent that often blur the boundaries between the self and the non-self. This strand seeks to offer a forum for the papers exploring the encounters at the thresholds of the human and the non-human worlds, but also those that involve confrontations between different kinds of alterities experienced in the world of Old Norse myths.

Medievalism and the sagas / reception of the “other” in Old Norse literature

The recent growing interest in medievalist-oriented research is also present in the study of the medieval North. Various cultural depiction, reworkings, and reinterpretations of the North in general and of the sagas in particular are importantly and influentially present in contemporary culture, both high- and lowbrow. This strand is open to the papers and discussions that examine the cultural confrontations and encounters between otherness and alterity present in modern adaptations of different aspects of Old Norse culture and literature.

Methodological diversity in Old Norse studies

The aim of this strand is to open a forum for discussing how theoretical and methodological approaches can contribute to finding new perspectives in Old Norse studies. Considering the conference’s theme, contributions to this strand should focus on the various ways in which otherness/alterity can be studied in order to allow for nuanced interpretations.

Round tables / small sessions

Instead of an “open session,” we suggest round table discussions or small sections in accordance with the recent conference practice. The participants may suggest their own topics that do not have to be thematically related to the main theme of the conference.

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