UCF Medievalist Receives Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities

One stereotype about the Middle Ages states that medieval people were obsessed by hell. Manuscript images show demons torturing innocent souls and visions like. Dante’s Inferno The following are the Divine ComedyThese words are still very popular today. Why was medieval man so focused on hell?

Stephen Hopkins, assistant professor of English, argues that it’s because hell was a laboratory of the imagination, a space where people could imagine the limits of salvation and could rewrite the rules of who belonged and who did not.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), based on Hopkins’ research, selected Hopkins for a $60,000 fellowship for completing his book. The Infernal Laboratory – Vernacular Theology and Hell at the Medieval North Sea.

The NEH announced last week that $28.1 million was awarded to 204 national humanities projects. The fellowship program funds advanced humanities research and grants recipients the ability to produce articles, books, or other scholarly materials.

According to the NEH website for the last five rounds, the agency received 1,100 applications annually. Hopkins is among 70 NEH fellowship winners this year.

“I am honored to receive this fellowship from the NEH, and excited to be among a cohort of so many other captivating, ground-breaking and important humanities projects funded this year,” Hopkins says.

The Infernal Laboratory: Vernacular Theology, Hell in the Medieval North Sea. his current project funded by the NEH grant, investigates unusual local experiments with the concept of hell  in vernacular texts over the course of the Middle Ages. This flexible notion of hell resulted naturally from the translations and experimentation that took place with biblical and other apocryphal literature in Medieval England (Iceland, Wales, Ireland) and Iceland (early Medieval England).

“My book project begins with a crucial question: how did medieval writers develop their remarkably vivid conception of hell?” Hopkins says. “Not from the Bible; the New Testament has surprisingly little to say about hell. Yet by the 14th century, hell had become a codified, stratified and complex space, able to be mapped out with precision in Dante’s Divine Comedy. My book tells the story of how hell was used in the Middle Ages as an experimental space in which vernacular writers determined locally meaningful formulations of cultural and theological belonging.”

Before joining UCF in 2019, Hopkins received a bachelor’s in anthropology and linguistics from Miami University in Ohio and completed a master’s and doctorate in English literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. Hopkins teaches courses that cover linguistics, mythology, and early medieval literature at UCF. His work as a medievalist focuses on the North Sea context of early English literature.

Hopkins loves to teach, but Hopkins is excited about the opportunity to do concentrated research and write time that the fellowship will allow him to complete his first book manuscript.

“This time away from the classroom will enable me to inhabit this project deeply, which is important given the ambition of the work, spanning half a dozen languages and a thousand years of literary history,” Hopkins says. “In addition to the invaluable deep time I will devote to reading, thinking and writing, this grant will allow me to visit archives to consult medieval manuscripts and early print books that will benefit my work immensely.”

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