9. Juni 2023: VDTR Public Lecture "Thinking Through Dolls - Religious Studies, Anthropological and Artistic Approaches to Human Simulacra"




Dolls are compelling objects because they are so closely entangled with human life. They can serve as ritual implements, toys for children, decorative objects , uncanny entities and even healing and spiritual aids, depending on the quality of the relationships that dolls are part of. The material, mental, and symbolic spaces they inhabit connect them to questions about desire, attachment, surrogacy, ritual and how we understand the human through the mirror of the doll. This workshop addresses the ambiguous saliency of dolls in a range of diverse historical and cultural contexts. The aim is to use dolls to think about the beliefs they foster, the ritual and performances they engender and what their creation and destruction means to their makers and owners. 

You can find the complete workshop programme here.


To conclude the workshop we kindly invite you to a VDTR Public Lecture with Joe Moshenska (University of Oxford): “Iconoclasm as Child’s Play: Dolls and Idols in the Reformation” - on June 9th at 6.15pm, Dekanatssaal of the Faculty of Catholic Theology, Universitätsring 1, second floor, staircase 8, 1010 Wien.

The word 'iconoclasm’ conjures to mind acts of burning and breaking, grim-faced figures wielding hammer and flame. In the sixteenth century, however, the desecration of formerly holy things could take a very different form: such objects were periodically placed in the hands of playing children.  This lecture will argue that while this made a certain polemical sense - as a way of implying that traditional religion was inane and childish - such play was also a complex and volatile process.   Once we understand the array of forces and discourses that coincided on such objects as they became toys, they can be seen as both fascinating anomalies, and exemplary of the competing values that playthings embody as they fluctuate between idol and doll.

Joe Moshenska is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a tutorial fellow of University College.  He is the author of four books: Feeling Pleasures: The Sense of Touch in Renaissance England; A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby; Iconoclasm as Child’s Play; and Making Darkness Light: The Lives and Times of John Milton.  He is the current President of the International Spenser Society and is the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize.  He is currently working on intersections between critical and creative writing, and between literature and anthropology.

The public lecture will be followed by a panel discussion including Fabio Gygi (SOAS), Lisa Zingerle (Schubert Theater Wien) and VDTR member Alisha Saikia (University of Vienna) and will delve into the enigmatic prominence of dolls across various historical and cultural contexts. Our panelists will share their insights and knowledge on the beliefs they inspire, the rituals and performances they evoke, and the significance of their creation and destruction for their makers and owners.

Workshop and lecture are organised in cooperation with the Research Centre Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society.

Please come by or join us via Zoom!