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Pandemics in historical and regional cosmologies:  

From the first documented to COVID-19 

International Multidisciplinary Conference 

May 20-21, 2022, University of Tartu 


The COVID-19 pandemic, which started in 2019 and rapidly became a continuing global issue, is probably the biggest challenge to the world and to humanity since World War II. COVID-19 has been severely damaging to the world economy and to healthcare systems, affecting security architecture, international connections, internal and external politics, local community life and global society. We are all still going through this challenge, together with various experiences of uncertainty, including postponing the end of the pandemic as well as its direct and indirect consequences. 

These experiences lead to countless interpretations and attempts to make sense of this disaster provided by different actors and official and unofficial authorities, not to mention the various manifestations of conflicting positions, protests and negotiations. The multiplicity of theories concerning the nature and causes of the pandemic, the participants involved and responsible, as well as the necessary actions and expectations for the future are represented in a variety of forms. These interpretations of the current pandemic have a strong influence on attitudes, models of behaviour, the success or failure of measures undertaken in particular communities. In general these interpretations also affect the shared and interconnected crisis situation that exists today. This inspires us to use a wider comparative perspective and to search for clues as to the perception of pandemics in a multiplicity of historical and regional patterns.  

Many examples of pandemics from ancient, medieval and modern times are known and found in a rich variety of regional sources visual, material and verbal, for example in religious and civil art, architecture, written and oral genres, rituals, etc. Apart from the huge devastating effect that they have, pandemics also produced challenging and stimulating conditions in various realms of the life. Societies from ancient times to the present have experienced pandemics, as well as demonstrating various ways to conceptualise and to respond to these disasters. Sources provide various patterns of ‘adoption’ of pandemics in local cosmologies based on local ethnic, religious and vernacular traditions. Epidemic disasters and illnesses receive peculiar forms of personification (demonic or divine, human or non-human), association with different agents and powers, and are included in specific ‘ritual’ relations (religious, civil, vernacular) and treatment. Contemporary local eco-cosmologies reflect both regional cultural peculiarities and global international themes and conditions, being sensitive and flexible in providing forms for new experiences.  

Therefore, we consider that this conference, which examines a multiplicity of historical and regional societies, will give wider perspectives from which to understand the pandemic as a social phenomenon at local and transnational levels, and provide fruitful grounds for cross-cultural dialogue. Topics concerning various periods, cultures and multidisciplinary research fields involving the theme of pandemics are welcomed. The selected conference papers will be published as a collective monograph or a special issue in a pre-reviewed indexed journal.    

The deadline for applications is 31 March 2022. Please include in your application the name and affiliation of the presenter, the title, 5 to 7 keywords and an abstract (150 words). A decision on the format of the conference, hybrid or fully online, will be taken later according to the situation. For submissions and more information: pandemicconference@gmail.com 



Centre for Oriental Studies and Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore – University of Tartu 

Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités – École pratique des hautes études 

Institut für Religionswissenschaft – Universität Bern 


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