Íslendinga sǫgur — Call for Papers

The 17th International Saga Conference will take place in Reykjavík and Reykholt 12–17 August, 2018. The central theme is Íslendinga sǫgur and a subsidiary theme will be law and legal writing to mark the 900th anniversary of Iceland’s first written law code.

Plenary speakers will be:

  • Carol Clover, Professor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley
  • Lena Rohrbach, Professor of Old Norse Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Andrew Wawn, Professor Emeritus, University of Leeds

Sessions will be divided between four main themes, each with several subthemes. The program committee welcomes paper on any topic related to the themes listed below. Presenters are asked to submit a single abstract for one of the subthemes.


1. Saga Origin and Media

a. The Debate of Saga Origin
b. Saga Landscapes
c. Manuscripts and Textual Transmission
d. Reception and Media
e. Sagas in Translation
Seminar Session: Saga Origin and Media

2. Artistry

a. New Theoretical Approaches and Perspectives
b. Literary Composition
c. Poetry and Prosimetrum
d. Semiotics and Interpretation
Seminar Session: Emotions in the Íslendingasǫgur

3. Ideas and Worldview

a. Cultural Contact and Multiculturalism
b. Gender, Gender Identity and Gender Roles
c. The Supernatural
d. Other Genres
Seminar Session: Hegemony, Alterity, Dissent
Seminar Session: The Role of Magic in the Íslendingasǫgur

4. ‘Með lögum skal land byggja’

a. Violence and Conflict
b. Law and Legal Culture
c. Power and Political Culture
Seminar Session: Law and Legal Culture in Medieval Iceland

Sessions will be based on the following formats:

  • Paper panels (3-4 speakers)
  • Poster session
  • Seminar session (6-8 participants).

Presenters are asked to state their preference for session format (paper panel, poster session or seminar session). Due to the limited number of places available the program committee may not be able to accommodate all wishes.

The poster session will be a single session and includes all topics related to the central theme. Presenters of posters will be expected to respond to questions during the poster session. There will be at least one seminar session per main theme. The seminar sessions are intended to give participants an opportunity to debate a topic in a focused, constructive and interactive environment. Seminar sessions will be led by a panel chair and will involve exchanging ideas and material in advance to foster engaged dialogue during the session itself. Participants will be expected to summarise their material and theoretical contribution in a short (5 minute) statement at the outset, followed by a discussion. Further information on session topics can be found below on this page. Do note that the seminar sessions will take place in English.

To submit a proposal please send an abstract of 350 words, clearly outlining the proposed paper. Please include your name, status, affiliation, A/V needs, preferred sub-theme category and session format. Proposals should be submitted online no later than 1 June 2017 through the Saga Conference Abstract Submission Portal.

Papers may be given in the following languages (except for the seminar sessions which will take place in English): Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English, German and French. Please note that the title and abstract should be in the language in which the paper will be presented. Do note that incomplete abstracts and topics outside the themes will not be considered. Presenters can only partake in a single session (including poster and seminar sessions). The program committee expects to notify presenters by mid-October 2017.

On behalf of the organizing body,

Program committee for the 2018 International Saga Conference

Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir
Ármann Jakobsson
Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
Emily Lethbridge
Sif Ríkharðsdóttir
Viðar Pálsson

Executive committee for the 2018 International Saga Conference

Gísli Sigurðsson
Guðrún Nordal
Haraldur Bernharðsson
Sif Ríkharðsdóttir
Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir

For further information about the conference, submission of abstracts and the programme, please contact: sagaconference2018@hi.is



The seminar sessions are intended to give participants an opportunity to debate a topic in a focused, constructive and interactive environment. Participants will be contacted by the session organiser and may be invited to send documents to be shared with other participants in advance or to offer discussion threads in preparation for the seminar itself. Do note that the seminar sessions will take place in English.

Arrangement of the seminar sessions: (1) The session chair opens the seminar with a brief introduction. (2) Then, each participant delivers a short presentation (5–6 minutes) on his contribution (participants are encouraged to share material with each other beforehand or at least sufficiently declare their intended input). (3) The main section is devoted to a panel discussion under the chair’s lead. (4) The session concludes with an open discussion between panel and audience.

Saga Origins and Media

Session organiser: Emily Lethbridge

Elucidating the origins of the sagas as a written form or genre is one of longest-standing lines of enquiry in saga scholarship. Each generation of scholars has attempted to review the evidence and fill in the tantalising gaps that exist not least because no saga survives in ‘original copy’. Naturally, academic understanding of the situation has been directly and indirectly shaped by theoretical trends within scholarship more broadly, as well as socio-political movements such as nationalism at different points in time.

Two decades into 21st century, the aim of this session is to review where saga scholarship stands today with regard to questions about origins, transmission and media, and to consider lines of enquiry for future. When did saga-writing begin? Why? How? Who was involved? What motivated them? Recent work drawing on (amongst other things) media studies, memory studies, performance theory, oral-formulaic theory, translation theory, network theory and the material and spatial turn in humanities have generated new perspectives on these issues and it is hoped that this session will build on these advances and take the discussion forward in an engaged and energetic manner.

Emotions in the Íslendingasǫgur

Session organiser: Sif Rikhardsdottir

Given the conventionally laconic mode of emotional representation in the Icelandic sagas, the question of the particular narrative functionality of emotionality (or its avoidance) in the sagas is particularly relevant, as is the notion of the narrative or linguistic means of emotive representation. The session is intended to query how emotions are represented, configured or avoided in the Icelandic sagas, the function they serve within the literary framework of the sagas, the relevance of emotion studies to research on the Íslendingasǫgur and, finally the relevance of the sagas themselves for emotion studies.

The seminar session is intended to allow for in-depth discussion in a focused and constructive environment on the topic of emotions and the Icelandic saga.


Alterity, hegemony, dissent

Session organiser: Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Old Norse-Icelandic texts bear witness to a continuous process of constructing and maintaining the hegemonic social order and the dominant ideologies which underpin it. How these are defined depend on points of view and change through time. In the society depicted in these texts, people are organised into an hierarchical system based on criteria such as ancestry, noble rank, gender, age, ableness, religious identity, ethnicity and other attributes. The types of people represented as aristocratic, Scandinavian (rather than, e.g., Irish or Sámi), male and cis gendered, able-bodied, and subscribing to similar world views can, from one point of view, be regarded as the natural holders of power in the Íslendingasǫgur (as well as in other types of sagas). Despite this ‘naturalness’, the textual and manuscript witnesses preserved suggest that these assumptions are under constant debate. The people who identified with dominant groups likely did not and could not feel secure about their own place in society; textual production – composition, copying, rewriting and editing – was one way of (re)affirming dominance. Figures that voice alternative viewpoints and social critique, or who threaten to unsettle the natural order of things, appear in various guises: ‘unruly’ women, foreigners and othered ethnic groups, giants and giantesses, demons, pagans, and a myriad of supernatural and paranormal creatures. The literary system itself was in constant motion – discrete types of narratives and genres rose and fell in prestige and popularity, and were promoted by different patrons or groups. In sum, sagas and manuscripts give insight into a world where the hegemonic social order or aspects thereof – e.g. the Church’s prescriptive teachings, rigid gender roles and sexual behaviour, the dominance of established families, the suppression of one ethnic group by another – are not passively reproduced, but debated, justified, problematised and even rejected. This session will discuss the many ways in which hegemony, alterity, Otherness and dissent in Old Norse-Icelandic texts, with emphasis on the Íslendingasǫgur, can be uncovered and understood.

Topics could include but are not limited to:

  • Religious questioning
  • Critiques of power models based on ethnicity or geographical origin
  • Unsettling gender categories and sexual relations
  • Constructions of ableness and disability
  • The rise of new people and/or emerging classes to power
  • Regional tensions
  • Competing political ideologies
  • Literary categories and manuscript context


The Role of Magic in the Íslendingasǫgur

Session organiser: Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir

It is a well-known fact that most of the Íslendingasǫgur are supposed to have taken place in the 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries while being composed and written down several hundred years later, mostly in the 13th and 14th centuries. Consequently, the depictions of the past are not always comparable. In several of them we find people skilled in sorcery who may even influence the story. Further – and especially in the younger sagas – we find evidence of mysticism and the occurence of supernatural events. In these late sagas, supernatural or extraordinary beings, such as trolls and blámenn, appear more frequently than in the earlier ones. These figures are usually also skilled in magic and sorcery. In all these descriptions, the sagas may include different kinds of sorcery and it is safe to say that they exhibit a wide range of ideas on the subject. At the same time they shed light on peopleʼs ideas – those of their authors and audiences – about the world of the past.

Although the Íslendingasǫgur can, in certain cases, reflect the past in both material and ideological ways, it is important to read them as literature. It is thus necessary to consider their ideas on magic and sorcery as being essentially based on the role they play within the text and to keep in mind that they are shaped by their presumed purpose. Were ideas concerning sorcery in the past seen as a form of entertainment? Was sorcery considered as a means of depriving people of their free will, thereby freeing them from responsibility? If those ideas are plot-based, to what extent do they actually serve the progress of the plot? Do they in part serve to create circumstances that call for certain reactions? This seminar session will deal with notions about sorcery that are found within the Íslendingasǫgur, viewing them primarily in the light of their different narratological roles.

Law and Legal Culture in Medieval Iceland

Session organizer: Viðar Pálsson

We commemorate the 900th anniversary of Iceland’s first written law code, Hafliðaskrá, by making law and legal culture in medieval Iceland a sub-theme under the conference’s main theme of Íslendingasǫgur. For this seminar session, we thus invite contributions on law and legal culture in medieval Iceland generally (commonwealth and post-commonwealth), although themes connecting the two, law and (family) saga, are particularly welcome. There is, of course, a longstanding scholarship and debate on the relations between the legal material preserved in Grágás and the legal and political culture of the saga world, and it may serve us as a logical point of departure in our seminar discussion.

Suggested themes include:

  • Oral and customary legal culture vs. the advent of written law and a human legislator.
  • Legal philosophy, native and foreign.
  • Codicology and manuscript traditions of legal materials.
  • Legal and administrative institutions.
  • Ecclesiastical legal culture, independently or in relations with secular legal culture.
  • Law and legal culture in the Íslendingasǫgur.
  • Law, legal skills, and legal knowledge as political instruments.
  • Post-medieval and modern historiography on medieval law and legal culture.

Addendum to Call

We would like to emphasise the option for participants to submit a fully formulated session within any of the thematic categories. Such sessions would have a particular topic and feature pre-arranged speakers. All speakers in such sessions would nevertheless have to submit an abstract via the submission portal and the programme committee reserves the right to reject any abstracts from such sessions if they do not meet the expectations of the call. Such pre-arranged sessions should either feature three speakers (conventional 20-minute papers) or can follow the format for the seminar sessions (with 6-8 speakers). In the case of a seminar session, the participants would be responsible for the arrangement of the session and its execution. The programme committee encourages diversity where possible.

For pre-arranged sessions please send an email to sagaconference2018@hi.is listing the topic of the proposed session, the proposed speakers and the selected thematic strand in addition to submitting individual abstracts via the submission portal.