Workshop: Canonization of “Cultural Saints”

28-30 October, University of Amsterdam

The workshop Canonization of “Cultural Saints”: Commemorative Cults of Artists and Nation-Building in Europe, convened by Marijan Dović (Institute of Literature ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana) and SPIN, aims to identify and describe patterns in the nationally-motivated veneration of poets, writers, composers, and intellectuals in post-1789 Europe.

The rise and rapid spread of such practices, especially as of the 1840s, should be understood within the framework of cultural nationalism. The considerable variety of this cultural commemoration, veneration, and “hero-worship” (Thomas Carlyle’s term) can be encompassed on the basis of an expanded concept of canonization (referring both to the acknowledgement of cultural prestige and durability, and to para-religious rituals of pious commemoration) in the context of newly emerging “imagined” communities and their (collective) cultural memory. 

Following on from earlier research on “cultural saints” in Europe, this workshop aims to reappraise the continuous veneration of canonical figures as part of the European nation-building process, especially in those smaller cultural communities who drew their sense of identity primarily from language and literature. Our working hypothesis is that para-religious elements (which characterize national movements as forms of “secular religion”) were instrumental in this process especially from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the World War II. We aim to circumscribe the heuristic value of the metaphor of sanctitude through discussions of the relevant concepts (canonization, worship, rituals, relics) and the analysis of paradigmatic cases (“national poets” and other “cultural saints”) from a number of European literary cultures – from Iceland to Georgia and from Spanish Galicia to Estonia.

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