Call for Papers – Conference on Distinctiones

Marjorie Burghart (CNRS) and Lucie Doležalová (Charles University Prague) invite submission of papers for an upcoming conference on distinctiones in the context of preaching, to be held in Prague between 23-25 April 2020

Prague skyline – Photo: Ondřej Tichý


The study of medieval preaching – and its main source, the sermon – offers a privileged insight into intellectual work and its techniques. Through this source, we can approach the persuasion strategies, and also the tools used by the preachers in their intellectual work. Among those tools was the distinctio. This technique, extremely widespread in the Middle Ages from the late 12th c. onwards, consisted of considering a word according to its various senses, properties or characteristics,  and supporting them with biblical citations. Distinctiones were  a key  ingredient  of sermons from the early 13th c. onwards, just like exempla (short narratives used for persuasion), but contrary to the latter, distinctiones have never been studied in depth or even surveyed properly. They did not benefit from an authoritative study tracing the origins and developments of the technique, its relationship with rhetoric or dialectics, the actual use of distinctions in preaching and beyond, etc. It is probably the sheer immensity of the task ahead and the paucity of reference works and finding aids that discouraged new research so far.

The aim of this conference is to stimulate the study of distinctiones, bringing new light on the strategies of communication at work in medieval preaching and the intellectual tools and techniques supporting it.

Suggested topics

We invite submission of papers on the following topics:

  • the origins and development of the technique: the links between distinctio and exegesis; which words, notions or lexical fields were privileged when creating distinctiones? Can we see topoi emerging in their treatment, or on the contrary was there a great versatility? What was the place of the distinctio as a dialectical device in scholastic argumentation? Could it shed new light on the intrusion of the disputatio into predicatio? etc.
  • The actual use of distinctiones outside of the collections: to what extent did preachers and theologians use them for their sermons, treatises or summae? When they did, how did they transform the material to merge them into their own creations? What was their relationship to other ‘ingredients’ of a sermon (exempla, authorities, similitudines, interpretation of biblical names, etc.) What was the function of distinctiones in those sermons: a mere backbone, a didactical device, or a tool to captivate the audience and drive a point home? Finally, did the actual use of distinctiones conform to the recommendations of the artes praedicandi, those ‘arts of preaching’ which provided preachers with a means to taught preachers how to make sermons? etc.;
  • The link between distinctiones and mnemotechnics. Their riming structure or logical patterns were certainly an important element when committing a sermon to memory – a point that did not escape many users of medieval sermon manuscripts.

We also welcome submission of papers on any relevant topic not listed above, as well as studies of individual collections of dictinctiones.

Practical information

Please send abstracts of max 300 words to by January 1st 2020 23:59 GMT.

Selected contributors will be notified after January 15th 2020.