Deciphering the Uncertain: Sociological and Epistemological Aspects of Divination in Early Text Cultures

24–25 June 2019

Call for Papers

(to be received by 26 April 2019)

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. We intend 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.

Our investigation 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.

In this regard, our main references are La divination. Études recueillies, edited by A. Caquot and M. Leibovici (Paris, 1968), which offers an account of divinatory activities in a wide range of both ancient and modern societies; as for what concerns the socio-epistemological dimension of the mantic practice, we mainly refer to Divination et rationalité, edited by J.P. Vernant (Paris, 1974) and Divination and Prediction in Early China and Ancient Greece, by L.A. Raphals (Cambridge, 2013). More recent studies on divination focussed either on specific issues (Divination and the Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World, edited by A. Annus, Chicago 2010) or on a limited geographical area (Coping with the Future: Theories and Practices in East Asia, edited by M. Lackner, Leiden-Boston 2017) and an over-arching perspective on mantic practices has not been provided since the publication of the above-mentioned volume edited by A. Caquot. However, in the past few decades, new archaeological and palaeographical sources have made it possible to reconsider several aspects of divination. For instance, the discovery of inscriptions related to the socalled shuzi gua 數字卦 (lit. ‘numerical divinatory symbol’) has significantly contributed toward a new understanding of yarrow stalk divination, whilst the emergence of lots from the Greek sanctuary of Dodona shed new light on how queries were addressed to the oracle and on the oracle’s response.

We already cover China, Rome and Etruria, Greece and the Celts, and our confirmed key-note speakers will be Professor Robert Parker (Oxford) and Professor Bernhard Maier (Tübingen). We are looking for contributors on the surviving corpora available for Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Israel, pre-modern Islamic areas, ancient India, Japan, as well as Medieval Europe, covering the Slavs and the Germans.

Participants are invited to consider the following questions:

  1. How is divination defined and conceptualised in each society?
  2. What are the sources and texts through which we can reconstruct how divination worked? How do different material supports affect the ways divination is performed?
  3. Who were the practitioners? Were they professionals or amateurs? Did they have connections with a temple or a court or were they independent? What was their cultural background?
  4. What were the techniques employed by these practitioners in interpreting divinatory signs, either natural or deliberately created?
  5. 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?

The event will be held in Oxford on 24-25 June 2019 at the University of Oxford China Centre. We welcome up to 500-word proposals for 45 minutes talks which should be sent to and by 26 April 2019.

We expect a monograph or a special volume on a journal to emerge from the conference discussion, conceived as an up-to-date, cross-cultural overview of divination in early text cultures. We are ultimately looking to make a decisive contribution in the field of religious and socio-cultural studies, ideally constituting both a useful tool for advanced scholars and a general reference for those who are approaching this area for the first time.

The Conference is sponsored by the ARHC-TORCH Grad Fund, the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures at The Queen’s College (CMTC), Pembroke College, and supported by the University of Oxford China Centre.


Past Conferences

CHEW Conference 2018

Health, Environment and Welfare in China’s New Era

12–13 October 2018

Organised by China’s Health, Environment and Welfare (CHEW) Research Group. Hosted and funded by the China Centre with support from the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies.

More than five years into Xi’s leadership, and less than two years until the target date of 2020 set by the Chinese Communist Party to achieve a ‘moderately prosperous society’, time has come to take stock of the country’s evolution. What are the challenges faced by present-day China, how have they been addressed in recent years and how may they evolve in the future?

The Conference started on Friday 12 October at 2:45 with a keynote talk by Prof. Genia Kostka from the Free University of Berlin on ‘Tightening the grip: environmental governance under Xi Jinping’.  A roundtable on social activism in today’s China moderated by Prof. Anna Lora-Wainwright followed. On Saturday 13 October, several panels enabled conference participants to continue exploring how the political and institutional changes carried out by the Xi administration have impacted the way in which Chinese actors mobilise and engage with environmental, health and welfare issues across administrative, geographic and technological boundaries.

CHEW Conference 2017

Contesting Modernisation: The Future of Health, Environment, and Welfare in China

26 May 2017

Conference Schedule

Venue: Lecture Theatre 1 – China Centre

10:30 – 10:45          Welcome speech

10:45 – 11:45         Keynote speech: Micah S. Muscolino, Professor of Modern Chinese History, University of Oxford

11:45 – 12:30         Lunch break

Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice

12:30          Dr Jennifer Holdaway, University of Oxford

Balancing Environmental and Social Justice: Implications of China’s Stronger Environmental Protection Policies for Rural-Urban Inequality.

12:45          Alexandra Foote, London School of Economics

Community Based Ecotourism in the Tibetan Plateau

13:00          Chang Liu, Jilin University Institute for Chinese Studies

Picking up the Fashionable Items from Transnational Waste: On Chinese Women’s Striving for Post-Revolutionary Chinese Femininity

13:15-13:30                Question time

Environment and Modernity in Transitional China

 13:30           Dr. Jan Erik Christensen, Independent Scholar

Confucian Philosophy, Education, and Ecological   Sustainability.

13:45            Dr. Chaohua Wang, Independent Scholar

Societal Empowerment for a Better Future in China.

14:00            Coroline Goron, University of Warwick

‘Ecological Civilization’ and the Continuation of Modernization Politics in China.

14:15-14:30       Question time

Coffee and Tea Break (14:30-15:00)

Activism and Grassroots Movements

15:00         Dr Nicholas Loubere, Lund University

Microcredit, Modernity and Marginalisation in Rural China.

15:15        Suzanne Barber, Indiana University

Animal rights activism

15:30           Li Zipeng, University of Edinburgh

Would the ‘Online Public Voice’ be Considered by the Chinese Government During the Environmental Crisis?

15:30-15:45      Question time, chaired by Irina Fedorenko

Animals and Chinese environments

15:45         Dr. Kin Wing Chan, University of Cardiff

The Preformative Eco-Friendly Farmers: Governmentality and Regulation of Animal Waste Practices in Hong Kong  (1973-1997).

16:00         Dr Alisha Gao, Goethe University

Solving the Negative Externalities of Factory Farming in China Intensive Livestock Production.

16:15        Dr Thomas White, University of Cambridge

Patriotic camels and the Political Ecology of China’s Borderlands.

16:30-16:45      Question time, chaired by Dr. Loretta Lou

Coffee and Tea Break (16:45-17:15)

17:15-18:15     Roundtable Discussion

18:15-18:45     Wine reception

19:00                 Conference Dinner at Zheng Restaurant



Culture Contacts in Ancient Worlds: Theories and Case Studies







Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of Oxford China Centre

24 to 26 March 2017

There is much current interest in causes of globalization and international contacts. Although the process of globalization has sped up considerably over the last decades, recent research has suggested that the modern and the ancient world may not be fundamentally different as far as mechanisms and preconditions of inter-cultural contact are concerned. Prehistoric and early historic communities can therefore serve as useful case studies to reflect on general mechanisms of inter-cultural exchange that are of great interest to modern day societies as well.

The conference on “Cultural Contacts in Ancient Worlds: Theories and Case Studies” held at Oxford, 24 to 26 March 2017, brings together researchers from various fields in the humanities and social sciences to gain deeper insight into mechanisms of and reasons for inter-group exchange across Eurasia in historic and prehistoric periods.

Organizer and Contact: Dr Anke Hein,

Location: University of Oxford China Centre, Lecture Theatre, Dickson Poon Building, Canterbury Road, Oxford OX2 6LU

Financial Support: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München; The University of Oxford China Centre; St Hugh’s College


Conference Programme

Friday, 24 March, 2017

17:00-18.00                      Reception

with Prof. Anthony Watts, Vice-Principal of St Hugh’s College, at the Principal’s Lodge, St Hugh’s College (by invitation only)

18:00–19.30       Keynote Lecture

Prof. Dr Harald Hauptmann (Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities)
Between the Silk Roads and Gandhara – Archaeology along the Upper Indus in Northern Pakistan—with opening remarks from Prof. Rana Mitter

Saturday, 25 March, 2017

8:30-9:00                            Opening Remarks

Prof. Julia Lee Thorp (Head of the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford)

Dr Anke Hein (Conference Organizer, University of Oxford)

9:00-10:30                          Theories and Models

Chair and Discussant: Dr Peter Bray (University of Oxford)

9:00-9:30 Dr Tom Brughmans (University of Konstanz): The potential of network science for archaeology and history: contributions and challenges

9:30-10:00 Dr Alexander Geurds (University of Oxford): Traits, horizons, networks and technology: Some contact and interaction concepts in American Archaeology

10:00-10:30 Dr Peter Bray (Discussant)

10:30-11:00        Coffee break

11:00-13:00        People, Plants, and Animals

Chair and Discussant: Prof. Dorian Fuller (University College London)

11:00-11:30 Ophélie Lebrasseur (University of Oxford): Dispersal Routes of the Austronesians and Lapita Cultural Complex as reflected in the Genetics of Commensals

11:30-12:00 Dr Alicia Ventresca (University of Kiel): Complicated transmissions: A meta-analysis of stable isotopic data to examine the spread of cereal consumption across Asia

12:00-12:30 Dr Zhuang Yijie and Prof Dorian Fuller (University College London): Crop movement, regional networks and the emergence of agricultural societies in Eastern China and East Asia

12:30-13:00 Prof. Dorian Fuller (Discussant)

13:00-14:30        Lunch break

 14:30-18:00       Technology and Resources

Chair and Discussant: Prof. Mark Pollard (University of Oxford)

14:30-15:00 Prof. Andrew Wilson (University of Oxford): The transmission of mechanical technologies between China and the Mediterranean in antiquity

15:00-15:30 Dr Mei Jianjun (The Needham Research Institute), Lu Wang and Kunlong Chen (University of Science and Technology Beijing): Early Copper and Bronze Metallurgy in Northwest China: Some Unresolved Issues

15:30-16:00 Dr Yiu Hsu (Gary) Guan (University of Oxford): Charting metal supplies in late-prehistory China: reflections from the lead isotope analysis

16:00-16:30       Coffee break

16:30-17:00 Dr Ruiliang (Ray) Liu (University of Oxford): Metal movement between Zhengzhou and Panlongcheng in Bronze Age China: some new thoughts

17:00-17:30 Dr Peter Bray (University of Oxford): The character of available scientific data for metals and the concept of object biographies

17:30-18:00 Prof. Mark Pollard (Discussant)

18:00-18:30       Final Discussion

18:30                     Dinner for speakers

Sunday, 26 March, 2017

9:00-12:30          Trade and Exchange

Chair and Discussant: Prof. Dr Hans van Ess (University of Munich)

9:00-9:30 Dr Paul Wordsworth (University of Oxford): How to trace desert connections – methodological approaches for defining ephemeral trade routes in medieval Central Asia

9:30-10:00 Britta Stein (University of Halle-Wittenberg): Trade and Exchange in Eurasia as illustrated by Kofun period iron armour

10:00-10:30 Prof. Dame Jessica Rawson (University of Oxford): Networking central China and the steppe: jade, bronze and chariots

10:30-11:00        Coffee break

11:00-11:30 Dr Satomi Hiyama (Ryukoku University): Unravelling the threads of “Kucha Brocade”: Reflection of the flow of the textiles along the Silk Road in Buddhist mural paintings of the 5-6th centuries AD

11:30-12:00 Dr Francesca Fiaschetti (Hebrew University): Trade, Tribute and Diplomatic Networks in East Asia under Mongol Rule (XIII-XIVth Centuries) (via Skype)

12:00-12:30 Prof. Dr Hans van Ess (Discussant)

12:30-13:30        Lunch break

13:30-17:00        Culture Contact and Identity

Chair and Discussant: Prof. Irene S. Lemos, Dr Anke Hein (University of Oxford)

13:30-14:00 Prof. Dr Carola Metzner-Nebelsick (University of Munich): The steppe nomadic impact on western societies at the beginning of the first mill. BC

14:00-14:30 Dr Peter Hommel (University of Oxford), Dr Yury Esin (Khakassian Research Institute of Language, Literature and History), and Prof. Mark Pollard (University of Oxford): A Mammoth Task? Re-opening dialogue on cultural interaction between the Eurasian steppe and forest zones

14:30-15:00 Dr Bryan K. Miller (University of Oxford): Navigating and Negotiating the Middle Ground: Frontier Communities and Hybrid Practices of the Great Wall Region

15:00-15:30        Coffee break

15:30-16:00: Dr Maria Khayutina (University of Munich): Colonization and Cultural Identity in Early Zhou China (ca. mid-11-10th c. BCE): The Case of Zeng and Related Issues

16:00-16:30: Fabian Heil (University of Munich): An Island of Hybridisation? Cultural Identity in the Cypriot Bronze Age

16:30-17:00: Prof. Irene S. Lemos, Dr Anke Hein (Discussants)

17:00-18:00       Final Discussion

Oxford China Humanities Graduate Conference 2017(Extra)ordinary China: Practices of the Everyday

Oxford China Humanities Graduate Conference 2017.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Andrew Jones, Professor and Louis B. Agassiz Chair in Chinese, University of California, Berkeley.

Craig Clunas, Professor of the History of Art, University of Oxford.

“Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others”  – Michel de Certeau.

Graduate students are invited to submit abstracts for the inaugural University of Oxford China Humanities Graduate Conference 2017, which takes the theme of ‘the everyday’ in the Chinese context as its point of departure. We welcome papers that work with modern and pre-modern subject material and from all the humanistic disciplines, including history, literary and cultural studies, history of art, film and media studies, philosophy, human geography, anthropology, musicology, politics, and religion.

This conference asks applicants to draw on their graduate research to critically engage with practices of the everyday across Greater China. How has the everyday been articulated, invented, transcended, and resisted throughout the history and culture of the region? How have marginalised individuals and groups negotiated their everyday practices within wider structures of power? What does everyday creativity look like? And where do material objects, landscapes, and animals fit in to our perception of the everyday? As a theme, ‘the everyday’ in China has often been shortchanged in favour of so-called grander narratives of history and power. Over the course of this conference, we aim to remedy this and build up a picture of China which is framed by the local and quotidian.

Possible topics may include (but are certainly not limited to):

–      The daily lives and narratives of ‘ordinary people’

–      The home, the workplace, the school throughout the ages

–      Habit and routine, past and present

–      Virtual and augmented reality

–      Rural, urban, and ruined space

–      Local, national, and global interplay

–      Fairy-tales, fantasy, magic, and the uncanny

–      Literary, visual, and digital culture

–      The Internet and other forms of media

–      Everyday soundscapes, composition, or performance

–      Material objects, animals, the environment

–      Individual autonomy and mass culture

–      Alienation, social resistance, and counter-cultures

For further information, please use  contact form  or

CHEW Conference 2016: ‘Visible and Invisible Challenges: Transformations in Contemporary China’: 20-21 May 2016

The CHEW (China’s Health, Environment and Welfare) Conference 2016, ‘Visible and Invisible Challenges: Transformations in Contemporary China’, took place on 20-21 May in the China Centre and Green Templeton College. Scholars gathered to discuss several key topics including ‘Environmental Activism’, ‘Waste and Society’, ‘China and the World’, ‘Society, Politics and Exclusion’, ‘Safety and the Environment’, ‘Resources, Policies and Practices’, ‘Civil Society’, and ‘Urban Challenges’. The opening lecture was given by Professor Jane Duckett, University of Glasgow.

Digital Culture in Contemporary China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong

‘Digital Culture in Contemporary China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong’ is taking place in the China Centre on 17-19 December 2015. To register, please contact Elisabeth Forster ( indicating which days you would like to attend. Registration is free. Please see programme details on the China Centre website.

CHEW Conference 2015: ‘Policy Reform in China’s Health, Environment and Welfare’: 8 May 2015

The 2015 CHEW Conference aims to bring together academics, policy practitioners and other experts from diverse disciplinary backgrounds working on a range of contemporary issues relevant to China’s health, environment and welfare. Our focus is on policy reforms recently implemented in these areas and their observed or likely effects, and also on suggestions for new reforms required to meet the challenges.

Fourth Oxford Graduate Conference on Contemporary China: ‘The Revival of Ideologies in Contemporary China’: 22-23 May 2015

The one-day conference will be held on Saturday, 23 May at Oxford. On the evening of Friday, 22 May, there will be a specially featured roundtable discussion during which prominent China scholars will offer their thoughts on the theme of the conference. All conference participants are invited to the discussion.