Liminal Spaces in Byzantium and Beyond

The International Conference “Liminal Spaces in Byzantium and Beyond. Perceptions, Performativity and Placemaking” took place at the Swedish Institute at Athens on April 27-29, 2023, as part of the activities of the Section of Byzantine Studies in the Department of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University. It was envisaged as follow-up to the department’s first attempt to refine the boundaries, main focus and future aims of the study area of Byzantine Spatial Studies, by organizing (and publishing the proceedings of) the International Conference “From the Human Body to the Universe – Spatialities of Byzantine Culture” which took place in Uppsala in 2017.

This second conference was reified thanks to the kind financial support by The Royal Humanistic Science Society in Uppsala (Kungliga Humanistiska Vetenskaps-Samfundet i Uppsala) and in collaboration with the Research Programme ‘Retracing Connections – Byzantine Storyworlds in Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Old Slavonic (c. 950–c. 1100)’.
The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. It is a space where genuine newness can begin. It is not possible or it could be quite wary to be in a permanent liminal experience but if we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normality. During this interdisciplinary Conference, twenty-three speakers—historians, art historians, archaeologists and philologists—reflected upon the concept of liminality in the Byzantine world during which the acts of subversion of territorial and linguistic barriers – through political, military, social and cultural interaction as well as technological, artistic and literary exchange – were very common. Instead of choosing predefined liminal moments/periods or liminal persons, the departure point of the meeting was the spatial dimension of liminality. 

This conference was never meant as an effort to classify a yet-unclassified (or unclassifiable) Byzantine cultural in-betweenness. It was an attempt to acknowledge and establish our awareness of its existence, and to investigate the spatial dimension of liminality by means of the Byzantine paradigm. Such work requires our admitting that liminality is, by definition, an entirely fluid concept; for that reason, it is precious for dealing with this extraordinary space in between opposites, which is essential for the construction of culture. With the help of this concept, we can describe diverse kinds of ambiguity. We can experiment on doing research which resists applying distinctions and classifications, and which transcends an ordering and splitting of the world into neat binaries and oppositional systems and meanings. Because it is reality itself which provides no firm ground for neat classification. In applying classifications to raw reality there will always be an unclassifiable remainder.

The meeting mainly aimed to offer an alternative to the binary oppositions such as inside/outside, self/other, and good/bad and delineate liminality as a necessary concept for understanding a whole series of phenomena placed within the medieval world. It also aimed to further develop the use of the concept of ‘space’ as a vehicle for research of the medieval societies and cultures and as working platform for interdisciplinary collaboration within Byzantine and medieval studies.

Coming back on this soon enough!


Text & Poster: Myrto Veikou & Buket Kitapçı Bayrı; Images: Ingela Nilsson