Session Title

Bending the Knee: Proskynesis, Genuflection, and Bowing Rituals in the Medieval World I

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Special Session

Organizer Name

Erika Loic

Organizer Affiliation

Univ. of Toronto-Mississauga

Presider Name

Ali Asgar H. Alibhai

Presider Affiliation

Harvard Univ.

Paper Title 1

Drawn to Their Knees: Representations of Non-Christians Brought Low before Christ and His Messengers

Presenter 1 Name

Erika Loic

Paper Title 2

Pious Posture: Bioarchaeological Reconstruction of Genuflection at a Byzantine Monastery in Jerusalem

Presenter 2 Name

Susan Guise Sheridan

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Univ. of Notre Dame

Paper Title 3

Encoding Ritual and Power: The Proskynesis in Abbasid, Fatimid, and Byzantine Books of Ceremonies

Presenter 3 Name

Han Hsien Liew

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Minerva Schools at KGI

Start Date

8-5-2020 1:30 PM

Session Location

Schneider 1275

Description

Various pre-modern cultural traditions managed interactions between members of different social strata by prescribing performative displays of supplication and humility. Perceptible and formalized movements of the body, often performed publicly in courtly and religious settings, provided a symbolic visual vocabulary for interaction. They consisted of different extensions and contractions of joints and muscles, and often took the form of proskynesis, kowtow, genuflection, and bowing, as well as other gestures. These widely persistent social rituals represented the nature of the polarized relationship between master and slave, ruler and ruled, or superior and inferior in medieval cultures. They also served as forms of social currency; those acknowledging their superior’s authority and power were rewarded with social recognition. Paradoxically, bowing rituals could also result in one’s own exaltation through an elevation to a higher societal or spiritual ranking. Depictions and acts of genuflection or proskynesis were not limited to imperial contexts. Lowering the body as a means of elevating the soul was fundamental to monastic practice in Christian, Islamic, and many other cultures.

Our two panels consist of papers that discuss, explicate, and contextualize the rituals, histories, imagery, and cultural significance associated with different forms of bowing and bending throughout the medieval world. The papers have comparative cross-cultural studies pertaining to rituals of supplication within medieval Islam and Christianity (Latin and Byzantine) cultures. Furthermore, the papers discuss how these performative gestures delineated the relationships between ruler and ruled, master and slave, and upper and lower classes in various pre-modern contexts.

Erika Loic and Ali Asgar Alibhai

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May 8th, 1:30 PM

Bending the Knee: Proskynesis, Genuflection, and Bowing Rituals in the Medieval World I

Schneider 1275

Various pre-modern cultural traditions managed interactions between members of different social strata by prescribing performative displays of supplication and humility. Perceptible and formalized movements of the body, often performed publicly in courtly and religious settings, provided a symbolic visual vocabulary for interaction. They consisted of different extensions and contractions of joints and muscles, and often took the form of proskynesis, kowtow, genuflection, and bowing, as well as other gestures. These widely persistent social rituals represented the nature of the polarized relationship between master and slave, ruler and ruled, or superior and inferior in medieval cultures. They also served as forms of social currency; those acknowledging their superior’s authority and power were rewarded with social recognition. Paradoxically, bowing rituals could also result in one’s own exaltation through an elevation to a higher societal or spiritual ranking. Depictions and acts of genuflection or proskynesis were not limited to imperial contexts. Lowering the body as a means of elevating the soul was fundamental to monastic practice in Christian, Islamic, and many other cultures.

Our two panels consist of papers that discuss, explicate, and contextualize the rituals, histories, imagery, and cultural significance associated with different forms of bowing and bending throughout the medieval world. The papers have comparative cross-cultural studies pertaining to rituals of supplication within medieval Islam and Christianity (Latin and Byzantine) cultures. Furthermore, the papers discuss how these performative gestures delineated the relationships between ruler and ruled, master and slave, and upper and lower classes in various pre-modern contexts.

Erika Loic and Ali Asgar Alibhai