Friday, January 25, 2008

Appearing at a rosary conference near you...

I've been meaning to mention for some time that I've been honored with an invitation to speak at a one-day conference on prayer beads in March.

(I will candidly admit that my initial reaction is along the lines of "Lawk a-mercy me: this is none of I!" -- a Mother Goose reference. I am of course tremendously flattered that someone considers me an expert, but me? really? I shall have to make a good effort at it now.)

The conference is on the history and role of prayer beads in different cultures and communities, and it's on 27th March at Leiden University (in the Netherlands). It's sponsored by the Textile Research Centre, a 17-year-old project currently under the wing of the National Museum of Ethnology, but hoping for its own home soon.


This all started when the Centre's Director, Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, who specializes in Near Eastern textiles and dress, started searching for more information for a "small exhibition on prayer beads from around the world" she was planning for this summer. She found this blog, and the Paternoster Row site, which she says "have totally saved me." The exhibit has expanded into a full-fledged intercultural project, and there's no end in sight: the conference is one result.

The list of topics and speakers seems to be fairly firm at this point (it's on the TRCV website), and as you can see, it is very wide-ranging:

Hindu iconography and prayer beads, Dr. Ellen Raven, Leiden University
Tibetan Buddhist prayer beads, Dr. Henk Blezer, Leiden University
Korean shaman prayer beads, Prof. Boudewijn Walraven, Leiden University
Japanese Buddhist prayer beads, Dr. Andreas Marks
Orthodox Christian prayer beads, Dr. Karel Innemée, Leiden University
A history of Catholic rosaries, Ms. Chris Laning, Independent scholar, USA
Prayer beads from medieval and post-medieval excavations in Eindhoven, ca. 1225-1900, Nico Arte, Eindhoven Archeological Centre
Protestant attitudes to prayer beads, Dr. Anneke Mooi, Leiden University
Prayer beads and medieval Arab/Persian sources, Dr. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Leiden University
Modern Islamic prayer beads, Mr. Yusuf Alan, Rotterdam
Neo-Pagan prayer beads, Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, TRC, Leiden

How we are going to fit all that into one day I don't know!


I'm particularly interested to see two speakers on the Islamic prayer bead tradition. As readers of this blog know (all seventeen of you :) it's a subject on which very little information seems to be available, especially on its early history. One possible reason seems to be that many of the cultural studies in Islam that would concern themselves with such artifacts are regional rather than pan-Islamic. I look forward to hearing what the speakers have to say.

American that I am, I'm of course particularly excited to be invited to speak in Europe, and since the conference coincides with my Easter break, I will have about ten days before the conference to travel around. Besides sightseeing and museums, I hope to see many historical paternoster beads and take many pictures! Most of the places I'm going will be new to me, including Cologne (Köln), Nuremburg, Regensburg, and possibly Konstanz. I've been in both Amsterdam and Munich once before, but that was thirty-mumble years ago and I hardly remember any of it.

As for the conference, I would of course be delighted to meet anyone there who reads this blog, so do please introduce yourself. You can find more information on the TRC's prayer beads project here, and on the conference itself here, including where to write in order to register.

This is turning out to be a delightful instance of "it's a small world," since I had actually encountered Dr. Vogelsang-Eastwood once before: a good friend of mine has raved about her book on Pharaonic Egyptian clothing, which is excellent. Not the sort of thing you'd expect to combine with an interest in rosaries!