Personification Across Disciplines (Call for Papers, 9th Feb 2018; Conference, 17th-19th Sept 2018)

Personification Across Disciplines PAD 2018Humans have a flair for attributing intentions, traits, agency, emotions and mental states to beings or things – either real or imagined. A groundbreaking conference at Durham University, organised by the Hearing the Voice project, will for the first time bring together perspectives from a range of disciplines to better understand this phenomena. The call for papers is now open; submissions are due by 9th February.

Keynote speakers

H. Porter Abbott (University of California, Santa Barbara), Guillame Dumas  (Institut Pasteur), Nev Jones (University of South Florida), Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford University), Marjorie Taylor (University of Oregon)

Call for Papers

Humans have a flair for attributing intentions, traits, agency, emotions and mental states to beings or things – either real or imagined. Whether anthropomorphising natural or abstract shapes, playing with imaginary companions,  (re) constructing fictional characters and dialoguing with gods or hallucinatory presences, the attribution of an agentive mentality to human and non-human targets appears both natural and meaningful to our everyday life. The personification of inanimate, non-human, virtual or absent objects or entities seems at the core of human cognition, yet remains in many respects mysterious. To what extent is personification a conscious process whereby we extend intersubjective and narrative relations?  When does this capacity emerge? What are its cognitive underpinnings and what are its effects? Is there a continuum to be traced between these different cognitive, narrative, religious and hallucinatory experiences?

Our conference aims to explore personifying dynamics and experiences through a variety of disciplines, methods and perspectives. Although the complexity and ubiquity of these phenomena call for a multi-disciplinary approach, to date the topic has been mainly investigated only within the boundaries of specific fields and problems. For instance, a recent wave of cognitive studies on the psychology of anthropomorphism has set forth new hypotheses about its nature and function; fresh theoretical speculations have been produced by philosophers about the relation between the attribution of agency in voice-hearing and broader mechanisms of social cognition; other studies have investigated empathy with non-human interfaces; and cognitive literary approaches have been focusing on how we construct a frame for fictional consciousnesses.

However, these different levels and modalities of personification have never been brought into dialogue. This is the scope of our interdisciplinary conference. By bringing together keynotes and scholars from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, linguistics, narratology, literary studies, anthropology, and beyond, we hope to create a network for further collaborative exploration of these phenomena and to establish theoretical ground towards a shared study the human flair for personification.

Please send us your abstracts (250-300 words) for a 20min presentation, including a short bionote (150 words) by February 9, 2018. We encourage interdisciplinary approaches, co-presentations, and performative modes of delivery. We also welcome pre-formed panels, for which we ask an additional panel description (150 words). To submit an abstract, please fill in our online submission form.

You will be notified of your acceptance no later than March 16, 2018.

Topic may address, but are not limited to:

  • Agency and Personification
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Attribution of Intentionality
  • Felt presences
  • Fictional Minds
  • Imaginary Companions
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Narrative and Personification
  • Personification and Communicative Frameworks
  • Personification of Gods and Deities
  • Personification of Values and Abstract Concepts
  • Social Cognition and Personification
  • The characterful qualities of voices and visions
  • Trait-Attribution and Characterization of Persons
  • Zoomorphism

Thanks to Wellcome Trust funding, the conference is free to attend. College accommodation will be available to registered participants at a discounted rate and up to 5 accommodation bursaries will be available for postgraduate researchers. If you would like to be considered for an accommodation bursary please indicate this when you submit your abstract.

‘Personification Across Disciplines’ is organised by Hearing the Voice and funded by the Wellcome Trust. The organising committee, chaired by Marco Bernini, includes Ben Alderson-DayFelicity DeamerPeter GarrattMary Robson and Angela Woods.

For any questions, please email.

For information about the Hearing the Voice, visit the project website.

Conference hashtag: #personification2018.


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