The conference Deciphering the Uncertain: Sociological & Epistemological Aspects of Divination in Early Text Cultures will take place on the 24th-25th June 2019 at the China Centre, University of Oxford.

The two-day conference aims to present a comprehensive, comparative appraisal of the structural features underpinning a human universal concern, uncertainty. This concern was commonly expressed in early text cultures through divinatory practices. For the purposes of this conference, divination will be understood as an activity devoted to uncovering the hidden significance of events and signs, with the latter being either directly observed in nature or deliberately obtained. The aim of the conference is to broaden the widely accepted concept of divination as the mere act of foretelling the future. Such mantic activities may include, but need not be limited to, communication with transcendent realities conceived both as divine beings or as universal cosmic order.

The conference will focus on early text cultures, defined as pre-modern cultural contexts whose mantic practices can be reconstructed through the aid of written texts and archaeological material. In particular, we are keen to explore the importance of texts such as divination manuals, almanacs, oracular procedure and prescriptive texts, divination records or archives, and the close correlation between transmitted and excavated sources.

There will be two sessions each day and four sessions in all, each of which loosely focussed on a thematic macro-area (Middle-East, Far East, Greece and Rome, Medieval Europe). Each session will encompass three contributions of 45 minutes followed by general discussion. Participants are invited to consider the following questions:​​

How is divination defined and conceptualised in each society?

What are the sources and texts through which we can reconstruct how divination worked? How do different material supports affect the way divination is performed?

Who were the practitioners? Were they professionals or amateurs? Did they have connection with a temple or a court or were they independent? What was their cultural background?

What were the techniques employed by these practitioners in interpreting divinatory signs, either natural or deliberately created?

Are there any typological similarities in a set of practices which represent a shared feature among most ancient societies? If that be the case, is it possible to bring out distinctive aspects peculiar to each society within the complexity of the mantic art?

Confirmed key-note speakers will be Prof. Matthias Hayek (Paris Diderot), Prof. Bernhard Maier (Tübingen), Prof. Robert Parker (Oxford), Prof. William F. Ryan (Warburg Institute), Prof. Federico Santangelo (Newcastle), and Prof. Kenneth G. Zysk (København).

For the full program and further information regarding the conference, please refer to the website and the Facebook event pages: