Laboratorio di Storia delle Alpi

Start date: 24 November 2021

End date: 1 February 2022

Recent years have seen renewed interest for the study of so-called “popular” practices in relation to health; likewise, new approaches have emerged in the history of religious experiences. However, studies that aim to highlight the relationship between these two spheres – notably in peripheral areas, both rural and alpine – remain rare.

This colloquium aims to further examine the issue of interpenetration between healthcare, bodies, health, and religion in the rural context by adopting both an interdisciplinary approach and a “long view” (perspective de longue durée). In light of recent developments in historical research (history, history of religions, art history, historical anthropology…), how can we revisit practices, knowledge, and objects which, until now, have mostly been studied by folklorists and ethnologists?

Contributors will be invited to discuss this general question by focusing particularly on the actors. On the one hand, the role played by specialists of health and the salvation of the soul – parish priests, apothecaries, healers, midwives – and religious institutions (confraternities, hospices, monasteries…): who are they and how do they act in their roles as intermediaries between bodies, health, and the religious realm? What function do they have in the material, physical, and spiritual care of rural and alpine populations? On the other hand, the colloquium will investigate practices and habits which men and women established in order to take care of their own health and bodies – such as “self-healthcare” practices.

Over the span of two days, we will mobilize and highlight various documents produced outside of erudite circles (personal writings, almanacs, devotional objects, ex-votos, icons, images…), and inquire about particular spaces (sanctuaries, chapels, healing grounds, but also the household and the domestic sphere). Thus, we invite the analysis of ancient traditions, religious beliefs, and scientific knowledge for the purpose of discussing knowledge transmission pertaining to the relationship between bodies and souls, as it manifests itself outside of the scholarly context. Papers that consider the gender dimension are most welcome.

We therefore invite innovative work in line with the below thematic focus:

• Our first axis explores the “healthy body”: how is religion used to heal the body in rural areas? These papers will treat of practices deemed “superstitious” (medical recipes, magical formulas, use of the “secret” …), associated with transcendence and the magical realm. Furthermore, practices allowed by religious authorities will also be discussed, such as the intercession of the saints, pilgrimages, processions, the use of ex-votos and relics. Lastly, this axis will also consider how men and women daily related to religious prescriptions concerning bodies, hygiene, nutrition, clothing, as well as eroticism and sexuality.

• Our second axis explores the “holy body”: concerning the living, how can they attain salvation through practices of bodily purification? Whether it be through nutritional habits (fasts, interdicts…), sexual abstinence, and more radically, ascetism or flagellation, how do believers modify their bodily practices for spiritual aims? Care of the body also concerns death: how do communities take care of their dead in order to secure their salvation and who are the actors in charge of these practices (families, neighbors, confraternities)?

• Our third axis explores practices that concern “life cycles”, such as rituals surrounding infancy, pregnancy, menstruation, birth, old age, and death. This axis will discuss gestures and celebrations that mark milestones of the transformation of bodies. Moreover, inquiry will focus on beliefs about immaterial bodies (spirits, revenants), as well as mediators and intermediaries (mediums, parish priests, exorcists…), thus allowing us to question how rural society articulates the constant interweaving of life cycles, bodies, and souls’ rest.

Submission of proposals:

Paper proposals will have a title and an abstract (circa 2500-3000 characters, spaces and footnotes included), as well as a short biographical presentation (circa 1000 characters, mentioning your academic position, institutional affiliation(s), primary publications, and email address), and will be in Word format. Proposals must be submitted before 1 February 2022 to the following address:

Candidates will be informed of their selection in April 2022. Paper presentations should last 20 minutes. The colloquium will be held in French and in English. Participants will submit a two-page summary of their paper 15 days before the colloquium.

The organizers wish to publish a selection of the papers presented at the colloquium, taking into consideration the scientific comity’s opinion. Therefore, we encourage all participants to propose original and unpublished research.

Practical modalities:

Costs pertaining to accommodation, travelling, and meals during both days will be covered.


Sandro GUZZI-HEEB, Madline FAVRE, Aline JOHNER, Lucas RAPPO, Alessandro RATTI

(SSHR – Université de Lausanne) ;

Nathalie DAHN-SINGH (SSHR – Université de Fribourg).