CfP ‘Meditations on Malevolence: Exploring Evil in Modern Fiction’

Where/when: Utrecht University, 31 January 2025
Organizer: Bart Mulderij (University of Groningen)
Credits: 1-2 ECs (assignment instructions will follow closer to the date of the event).  NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

‘Meditations on Malevolence’ is a one-day symposium on the representation of evil in literature, taking place in Utrecht on 31st January 2025. The symposium will feature lectures by two keynote speakers, namely Prof. Maria Boletsi (Leiden University / University of Amsterdam) and Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes (Manchester Metropolitan University). In addition, there will be two panels with presentations by students and early career scholars.

Throughout the centuries, literature has exhibited a profound fascination with the concept of evil. From Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost to Victorian classics such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, and contemporary works like Lord of the Flies or American Psycho, numerous novels have delved into the complexities of morality, pushing the boundaries of human understanding.

Recent scholarship has witnessed a growing interest in the exploration of evil within literature. Works such as Taran Kang’s Transgression and the Aesthetics of Evil have studied the changing representation of evil in art from the Enlightenment to the modern era. Similarly, scholars like Emily Alder (2020) have identified a trend in fiction during the fin de siècle that veers away from the traditional dichotomy of good versus evil, embracing a more nuanced and ambiguous portrayal of malevolence. This shift challenges conventional boundaries and prompts a deeper examination of the relationship between humanity and traditionally perceived malevolent forces.

These pivotal changes at the end of the nineteenth century heralded a significant shift towards a more complex and nuanced exploration of morality and malevolence in literature. As such, there is a pressing need for new research to further map the idea of evil across various literary genres and media forms. Whether it be from a (Neo-)Victorian or Gothic perspective, or through philosophical and theoretical lenses, there exists ample opportunity for scholars to delve into this topic.

To that end, this symposium seeks to explore the multifaceted representation of the idea of evil in modern fiction and adjacent media. Building on recent scholarship that has interrogated the complexities of morality and malevolence in literature, film, art, and other cultural forms, this symposium aims to facilitate interdisciplinary discussions that deepen our understanding of how notions of evil evolve across different historical periods and remain relevant in contemporary narratives.

We invite early career academics, postgraduate students, and researchers to submit proposals for papers that engage with the theme of evil in literature and media. Topics of interest may include, but are not limited to:

  • (Neo-)Victorian and Gothic portrayals of evil
  • Ambiguity and complexity in the representation of evil
  • Evil as a philosophical or theoretical concept
  • The role of evil in contemporary fiction and adjacent media
  • The influence of historical and cultural contexts on the portrayal of evil
  • Gendered perspectives on evil
  • Psychological dimensions of evil characters
  • Comparative analyses of evil across different literary genres and media forms

Proposals for individual papers or panels are welcome. Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words, along with a brief biography, to by 1 November 2024. Successful applicants will be notified by 15 November 2024.

We look forward to engaging in vibrant discussions and sharing insights into the enduring fascination with the idea of evil in modern literature and media.