Colloquium: Blasphemy and Violence. Interdependencies since 1760

4 - 5 March 2020
Kramersplein 23 9000 Ghent

Liberas is proud to host in March 2020 an international colloquium devoted to the interdependency between blasphemy and violence in modern history. The colloquium is organised in conjunction with the Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz, Germany) and the School of History, Religion and Philosophy at Oxford Brookes University (Oxford, United Kingdom). The conference language is English. Convenors are Eveline Bouwers and David Nash. The conference will take place in Ghent on the 5th of March, with a keynote lecture on the 4th of March.

There is no registration fee. If you wish to attend, please register via mail: Please indicate in your mail whether you will attend the keynote lecture (in French) on Wednesday evening and/or the conference on Thursday. Please check this webpage for updates, as the programme can be subject to changes. For more information, you can contact

Félicien Rops - La tentation de Saint Antoine (1878), Royal Library of Belgium
Destruction of the monument of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1936), Getafe (Spain), Associated Press of Great Britain Ltd., UC San Diego Library

Blasphemy and Violence. Interdependencies since 1760 offers a much-needed analysis of a subject that historians have largely neglected, yet holds great relevance for contemporary society. Both young and established scholars will focus on specific incidents of blasphemy and sacrilege – a landmark case or a series of little-known micro studies –, examine its relationship with violence and discuss the legal background and context surrounding each incident.

Drawing on a variety of chronological and geographical contexts, the colloquium will probe the phenomenon of blasphemy and its link to violence from different angles. Papers will examine extreme situations of revolutionary, societal upheaval and civil war in which offences against the sacred are one aspect of a much broader culture of violence, with presentations about blasphemous and sacrilegious behaviour during the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and early Soviet Union as well as the Tragic Week in Barcelona and the Spanish Civil War. The colloquium will also pay attention to blasphemy accusations in the context of struggles over clerical-political loyalty, such as in debates over the Napoleonic cult and the so-called Jatto Affair in Imperial Germany. A further set of contributions examines how offences against the sacred (real or imagined) were used to stigmatise the religious Other, with papers discussing the persecution of Jews in Ottoman Tunisia, the martyr death of David Lazzaretti in late 19th-century Italy and the impact of the attack on the offices of French journal Charlie Hebdo. Contemporary debates on the position of religion in the public sphere resonate in papers about modernism in the Nordic countries, the attacks on freethinkers in modern Egypt and Ruslan Sokolovskiy’s 2016 video performance in a church in Yekaterinburg. The eve preceding the conference, internationally renowned expert Prof. Em. Alain Cabantous will give a keynote lecture in French on blasphemy and sacrilege during the French Revolution. An English summary will be available.


The conference takes place in the large conference room of Liberas in the centre of Ghent - Kramersplein 23, 9000 Ghent.

Download the full programme

Wednesday 4 March 2020
18:00 - 19:30 Alain Cabantous (Paris, FR): Violence et Sacré ou le Blasphème en Révolution
Thursday 5 March 2020
9:00 - 9:30: Welcome and Opening
9:00 - 9:10 Peter Laroy / Christoph de Spiegeleer (Ghent, BE): Welcome to Liberas
9:10 - 9:30 Eveline Bouwers (Mainz, DE) & David Nash (Oxford, GB): Introduction
9:30 - 11:00: Section 1: Blasphemy as a Companion to Political Transition
9:30 - 9:50 Laura Thompson (Boston, US / Tunis, TN): Protecting Muslims’ Feelings, Protecting Public Order: Tunisian Blasphemy Cases from the 19th Century through the Arab Spring
9:50 - 10:10 Nadezhda Beliakova (Moscow, RU): On Blasphemy and Violence during the Revolution and the Construction of Socialism in the Soviet Union
10:10 - 10:30 Julio de la Cueva (Toledo, ES): Blasphemy, War and Revolution: Spain, 1936
10:30 - 11:00 Comments and Discussion
11:00 - 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 - 13:00: Section 2: Blasphemy as a Tool for Emancipation
11:30 - 11:50 Emilia Musumeci (Teramo, IT): David Lazzaretti: Martyr, Rebel, or Heretic? A Puzzling Case in Post-Unification Italy
11:50 - 12:10 Matthew Kerry (Stirling, GB): Blasphemy in Early Twentieth-Century Spain: Vulgarity, Violence and the Crowd
12:10 - 12:30 Marcin Skladanowski (Lublin, PL): Pokémon in the Church: The Case of Ruslan Sokolovskiy and the Limits of Religious Performance in Contemporary Russia
12:30 - 13:00 Comments and Discussion
13:00 - 14:00 Lunch Break
14:00 - 15:30: Section 3: Blasphemy as an Instrument to Confront the Secular
14:00 - 14:20 Marco Omes (Pisa, IT): Blasphemy, Religious Adherence and Political Loyalty in the Roman States during the French Occupations (1789 - 1799 and 1808 - 1814)
14:20 - 14:40 Dirk Johannsen (Oslo, NO): Blasphemy as a Cultural Strategy. The Case of the Nordic Modern Breakthrough, 1871 - 1890
14:40 - 15:00 Hussien Soliman (Alexandria,EG): Blasphemy as a Justification for Violence against Freethinkers in Modern Egypt
15:00 - 15:30 Comments and Discussion
15:30 - 16:00 Coffee Break
16:00 - 17:00: Section 4: Blasphemy as a Strategy for Suppressing the Religious Other
16:00 - 16:20 Christoffer Leber (Munich, DE): The New Martyr. The Jatho Affair in Imperial Germany between Blasphemy, Freethought, and Religious Reform (c. 1910 - 1915)
16:20 - 16:40 Yvonne Sherwood (Kent, GB): Blasphemy, Violence, and the Production of Minorities
16:40 - 17:00 Comments and Discussion
17:00 - 18:00: Concluding remarks