Donner Institute Research Prize



Laura Hellsten is rewarded for the book Through the Bone and Marrow: Re-examining Theological Encounters with Dance in Medieval Europe (Åbo Akademi University, 2020). The book has been presented as a doctoral thesis in the subject Theological Ethics and Philosophy of Religion at Åbo Akademi University and will also shortly be published by the international publisher Brepols. Hellsten explores earlier theological, religious studies, dance history, cultural history, and anthropological research regarding the relationship between dance and a western understanding of Christianity. She also highlights examples of how people have danced during religious festivities in medieval Europe. With the help of art, legends, and stories, Hellsten relates the historical sources to a medieval worldview. With the hermeneutics of charity as her methodological grasp she creates an interpretation of the importance of dance for those that took part in the rituals and the liturgical events.

The Board of the Institute notes the following in its prize motivation:

“Hellsten is a dancing researcher who researches medieval dancers in a church context and how researchers, who have written about these dancers in modern times, have interpretated them. She is driven by a strong wish to create an in-depth understanding of the importance of dance in the Christian church during the Middle Ages. The extensive research is carefully and precisely conducted. Hellsten’s way of writing is personal, and she uses different text genres and body metaphors in a creative way to build her methodology and highlight the different sides of the research process. She is also a thoroughly ethical researcher.

Hellsten’s research shows how dance within western historical writing, connected to religion and church, has been categorized through dichotomies that do not work (secular/sacred, Christian/Pagan), since these reflect the secular views of today. She demonstrates how the dichotomies have created absences, distortions and gaps in earlier dance research and argues in a convincing way that the theological research on dance needs new epistemological staring points and new research methods that take the body into account.”

Granting OrganisationsDonner Institute for Research in Religion and Culture