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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

'Demons, Vikings, Pagans and Terror in the Early Middle Ages' and 'Political Violence: Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire'

9th October 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Alex Jordan and Nadia Terki

The final event in Late Summer Lectures 2019 will feature a pair of talks about terror in literature, past and present. Free and open to all, from students and schools to academics.

About 'Demons, Vikings, Pagans and Terror in the Early Middle Ages'

Demons, Vikings and pagans all inspired terror because they were a threat to the established, Christian order. Their modus operandi was quite dissimilar to that used by modern terrorist groups. Notably, they did not have a series of political demands or ideological motives for their attacks. Rather, they attacked for financial gain (or in the case of demons, imaginary prompting from the devil). Yet the fear they inspired and their patterns of attack were arguably similar. This paper will explore how medieval clergy perceived these groups in the centuries leading up to the first millennium, and how they responded.

Just like terrorists over the past few centuries, the fear that demons and pagans inspired was often out of all proportion to the damage they actually caused, or were thought to cause. Three factors probably lay behind this. First, they were perceived as the ‘other’; this element of the unknown meant that their attacks caused more fear than attacks by fellow Christians. Second, their attacks were unpredictable, or occurred at short notice. Third, these groups were difficult or impossible to engage with through usual methods, such as diplomacy, pitched battles or, for the medieval clergy, prayer. This left many with a frightening sense of both incomprehension and impotence to which the medieval church tried to respond as best it could. Clerical responses included blaming the populations attacked for being insufficiently pious, unconvincing claims that the saints were able to protect Christian populations, and finally, flight in the face of escalating Viking attacks. This paper shows that although the fear inspired was not dissimilar to fears of terrorism in the modern era, both the motives for attack, and responses to the attacks, were very different.

About 'Political Violence: Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire'

After the attacks of 9/11, and due to the shocking loss in human life and material damage, it came to be known as the most terrifying terrorist attack in history. Following that date, many terrorism scholars, such as Walter Laqueur, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon have argued for the emergence of a new and unprecedented form of terrorism. Their claims are mainly supported in relation to the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the intense scale at which the attacks are taking place. Yet, other scholars like Matthew Carr, Martha Crenshaw and John Gray have argued for a more consistent modus operandi of political violence. They maintain that terrorism as we know it today may have increased in level but has not changed in nature. That is, the central functioning pattern and reasoning behind it is consistent with previous forms of terrorism. John Gray specifically qualifies Anarchism (a violent movement that was mainly widespread during autocratic Russia) as the earliest precursor of contemporary terrorism. My research aims at supporting the latter argument through bringing in the literary argument. I am putting into dialogue novels from the late nineteenth, early twentieth, late twentieth and twenty first centuries, as a way of exploring the literary representations of political violence during those periods of time. I then proceed to drawing the parallels in the aim of uncovering the consistency in the modus of operation of terrorism, be it Anarchism, during autocratic Russia, or Islamist fundamentalism in the contemporary period. During this talk, I will specifically refer to Home Fire (2017) by Kamila Shamsie and The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph Conrad. I will make reference to the connectedness of their literary representations of media coverage and women ‘terrorists’ in relation to terrorism.


Is the lecture suitable for me?

Late Summer Lectures is designed to be open to a wide audience, from university or sixth-form students to members of the public. It aims to convey the latest postgraduate and early career research, so lectures will be rooted in academic ideas and principles; however, lecturers should present these in a clear way. There will be an opportunity to ask questions afterwards or to chat further over refreshments. You can get a sense of what to expect by listening to some of our previous lectures (although most live lectures will also be accompanied by visuals which can help to convey ideas).

Is the venue and lecture accessible?

The Ritson Hall in Alington House is located at the end of a corridor, wide enough for wheelchair access. A lift is available at the end. The organisers or Alington House reception staff will be available to assist. Unfortunately we are not able to provide sign language interpreters for each lecture. If there are any ways in which we could help you to attend the event please contact the organisers at

What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Please visit the Alington House website for full details.

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

If the event reaches its limit, priority will be given to those who have reserved a ticket in advance via Eventbrite. We advise that you bring a copy on your phone just in case.

Contact for more information about this event.

Related Links


Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Find out more on our Events page.


Many of our public lectures, seminars and conferences are recorded, and can be listened to as podcasts.

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Next Event

  • 29th January 2021
  • Title TBC
  • Online (Zoom)
  • Dr Hannah-Rose Murray (University of Edinburgh)