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CfP: The Drama of Obedience, 1700-1900 (University of Calgary, April 3-4, 2020)

We invite proposals for papers for the international conference ‘The Drama of Obedience, 1700-1900’, to be held at the University of Calgary on April 3-4, 2020 (keynote speakers: Norbert Bachleitner and Romana Weiershausen). The conference will provide the basis for a special issue of Oxford German Studies (publication scheduled for April 2021).Studies of the German Enlightenment conventionally focus on the concept of freedom and proposals to reshape existing structures of authority. But in some sense, the more pressing problem for thinkers of the period was the question of whether some form of obedience (to parental or conjugal authority, to the state, to the nation, or to God) should be retained. Looking at the Enlightenment and its nineteenth-century aftermath through the lens of obedience, not freedom, opens us to the rich attempts by thinkers of the period to redefine obedience so that it could be placed within a liberal ideology, or within a conservative framework that attempts to reconcile obedience and agency. Instead of seeing the Enlightenment as a period of liberation alone, we can thus understand it as a period in which obedience was conceptually solidified as part of our idea of freedom. The theater and drama of this period are particularly fruitful to study in this context. More than any other literary or philosophical genre, theater and drama were understood to be deeply tied both to the anthropological exploration of human nature and to the establishment of enlightened states and a unified nation. It is thus in drama that we can expect the problem of obedience to play an especially prominent role in all its psychological and political facets.

We are interested in a wide range of approaches to this topic, and we would particularly welcome contributions on the following aspects:

  • Comparisons between liberal and conservative playwrights’ views on obedience.
  • Comparisons between popular drama and drama usually understood as part of ‘high culture’ in their representation of obedience.
  • Comparisons between German and other European dramatic traditions regarding obedience.
  • Representations of the French Revolution, the 1848 Revolution, and the Reichsgründung in relation to obedience.
  • The relevance of the concept of obedience for the representation of class identity and the relationships between the classes.
  • The relative importance of obedience in different dramatic genres prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • Specific dramatists or literary movements (e.g. Sturm und Drang, Biedermeier, Junges Deutschland) and their relationship to obedience.
  • Broader cultural movements (e.g. Pietism, Sentimentalism) and their influence on the conceptualisation of obedience.

Abstracts of about 200 words (in German or English) for 30 minute papers should be sent, alongside a brief bio, to the organizers of the conference, Martin Wagner ( and Elystan Griffiths ( by October 30, 2019. Papers in either English or German are welcome. The organizers will provide hotel accommodation for all speakers. Comprehensive funding is available for up to three graduate student participants from Canadian graduate programmes.

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