Workshop at IASH Edinburgh

Call for Papers

Above. Degrees of Elevation

One-day workshop – 12 May 2016, IASH Edinburgh

Dreams of reaching the above have animated human beings for millennia, not least showing in the central role of ascension in religious, spiritual and cultural narratives and practices: Icarus’s doomed ascent towards the sun, Christ’s Ascension, or the levitation of saints, to name but a few. Next to the continued importance of such spiritual and mythological interpretations and connotations of height and elevation, the above has also been connected to ideas of modernity and “progress” in more recent history: genealogical trees reaching towards the realm of God, the history of flight as the conquering of the domain above with ever-improved technological tools, or the emergence of a modern “vertical” city epitomised by the skyscraper.

Reflections on the “vertical” dimension thus shape our understanding of basic human conditions and vice versa. Being always situated in space: “I am not in space and time, nor do I conceive space and time; I belong to them, my body combines with them and includes them.” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception 1962: 140), human beings use notions of verticality to reflect their relations, environments and relative positions. In negotiations of the above, spiritual and religious connotations of elevation merge with anticipations of modernity and its implications regarding technology, domination and power. That is, imaginations in Western modernity take place in a domain characterised by interrelations and tensions between the spiritual, the technological and the material. This dynamics for example shows in the development of flying contraptions to aid spiritual with bodily ascent, in the Romantic discovery of the Alps as means of sublime elevation, as well as in Gothic architecture, which provides edificial concretisation of the religious yearning for the above. Not least, the interactions between technological progress and spiritual elevation are apparent when the “giant leap for mankind” (Neil Armstrong) onto the moon in 1969 was answered by a surge in the popularity of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s “transcendental meditation” with its promises of elevation of body and mind without technological aids.

Given the significance of non-horizontal spatial dimensions, it is surprising that elevation and verticality have not been a major focus of analysis for scholars working on the construction of space and the urban and rural environment. Despite a generally increased interest in aspects of space, place and scale over the last decades, scholars obviously hesitate to include the “above” as an explicit reference point for their analyses. Only recently have urbanists and geographers begun to break with the dominance of the horizontal and turned to the third dimension of space. Some scholars even call for a “vertical turn” in order to highlight the need and value of accounting for the above and its relations (see Graham and Hewitt (2013), “Getting of the Ground: On the Politics of Urban Verticality”. Progress in Human Geography 37.1: 72-92).

The workshop “Above. Degrees of Elevation” aims to draw on this recently emerging scholarship on the vertical and study the relevance of non-horizontal spaces for the constitution of human relations and connect it with scholarly interests deriving from various disciplines. Not least due to its limited accessibility, the above constitutes a space with specific characteristics, and it has not only been constituted through technology but also, and significantly, through imaginative exploration. Given the inseparability of material and imaginative aspects of the above, the workshop aims to think these together and explore their interrelations and the negotiations between them. Indeed, while scholars from a wide range of fields are concerned with the vertical, more exchange is needed to account for and connect the various aspects that the above and movements of elevation imply. The workshop therefore invites contributions on aspects of degrees of elevation in modern Western society from diverse disciplinary perspectives, including literature, theology, film studies, history and sociology.

Please send abstracts of 200-300 words (for 20 min papers) and a short bio-note to

by February 15, 2016.

The Venue

The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities The University of Edinburgh
Hope Park Square
EdinburghEH8 9NW

The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities was established in 1969 to promote interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences at the University of Edinburgh. It provides an international, interdisciplinary and autonomous space for discussion and debate. This Workshop has been funded as a Royal Society of Edinburgh Susan Manning Workshop, in memory of IASH’s former Director, Susan Manning. For more information, please see