HUMA sügiskooli 2023
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Tshinar-Kristi Shahmardan

Using Digital Tools to Study Contemporary Sermons – By Riti Ly Lukk 

The first presentation I watched was by Riti Ly Lukk, titled “Using Digital Tools to Study Contemporary Sermons“. The author uses a web collection named Corpus for conducting the research, which they refer to as “a convenient tool for research”. The presentation was very informative and I learned about the term “sermon”, a concept I was previously unfamiliar with in both Estonian and English due to my non-religious background. I had only known this concept in the Finnish language.1 The author defined the concept in question as follows: “A sermon, a part of a Christian church ceremony in which a priest gives a talk on a religious or moral subject, often based on something written in the Bible.” Additionally, the author noted that sermons often relate to personal stories, cultural references, and historical phenomena.

The study is about religion and approaches it with digital tools, which is very interesting, as the field of digital humanities (and using its affiliated tools in both research and writing) seems to be in rising popularity. Although the subject is religious, the author does not approach it from a biblical or theological viewpoint but rather a linguistic one. As their research database, the author uses the website, where they selected sermons from two different Christian sects for the analysis: a Seventh-day Adventist sermon (289,186 words) and an Episcopal/Anglican sermon (350,369 words). The author also utilized a digital tool called Sketch Engine ( for their research and, to my understanding, the presentation in question. 

Upon examining and comparing the language used in the sermons, the author found the following: The most frequently used word in both sermons was “We“. In the Seventh-day Adventist sermon, the next most common word was “You“, and in the Episcopal/Anglican sermon, the most common word was “It“. Other frequently used words in both included: Church, Christ, God, Family, His, Our, Her, Their, My, Odd, and Other

The study contrasts two sects of the same religion (Christianity) and, through language, builds an understanding of their values.2 The presenter spoke clearly and loudly (which was great, especially for online attendees such as myself). The author appeared confident and seemed to maintain eye contact with the audience. These aspects made the presentation easy to follow and understand, even for those who are unfamiliar with the topic. The research itself was thorough, and the author presented their findings clearly and in a well-organized manner, adding at the end that they didn’t find any surprising results. They also mentioned that the use of digital tools made the research much more efficient and convenient, which looking at the presentation’s title seems to be the main agenda.

Spectres of History for Cultural Explosions — Now Titled: Hauntological Semiotics in the Cultural Politics of New Nostalgia — By Rahul Murdershwar 

The next presentation I attended online was originally titled “Spectres of History for Cultural Explosions — Chronotopic Analysis and Design of Haunted Texts and Places“. However, by the time of the presentation, the title had been changed to “Hauntological Semiotics in the Cultural Politics of New Nostalgia“. The author mentioned that this title is also likely to change in the future. They also noted that this presentation was not exactly their master’s thesis topic but an exclusive presentation for HUMA.

The main concept of the presentation, as noted by the presenter, was to investigate nostalgia as an object.3 The author mentioned that the primary target audience for this specific research are semioticians, as they approached the topic on a meta-level.
In the beginning, the author explained the ‘gaps’ in the field of nostalgia research, mentioning approaches from semiotics, marketing, political sociology, and “Critical theory”. The main problem, set by the author, is the concept of “New Nostalgia” which is (in the words of the author) generally experienced by the younger generations, primarily on an aesthetic basis. Murdershwar defines the concept of New Nostalgia as something from the past that the younger generation (who mind you do not have personal memories or experiences of the given era) feels a connection to, as if they had experienced it or moreover, are still living it. As mentioned earlier, this is done by selecting an “aesthetic” or a fashion style from an era in the past and channeling the “vibe” by indulging in the associated fashion. The author refers to this as a “generic nostalgia aesthetic”, as the era adopted in New Nostalgia is quite often a “retro” aesthetic and is quite similar to one another (although they may be executed in a slightly different way). The author strongly associates fashion and clothing with New Nostalgia, calling the phenomenon a “General existential protest of New Nostalgia”. 

The concept in question is viewed by the author as a hauntological phenomenon, and according to him, it is somewhat of an extra-semiotic concept, meaning it cannot be fully modeled on a semiotic level. Nevertheless, the author attempts to do so, stating that the experience of New Nostalgia is a phenomenon of cultural explosion (as defined by Juri Lotman). This explosion, however, can only stem from a previous cultural explosion, or rather, is somewhat of a repetition of it. Thus, it is a preordained act that reintroduces itself as a new explosion. This is done by strongly relying on cultural memory and selecting only those aspects of the previous era (explosion) that fit the new one, meanwhile existing in an already existing and currently happening one (an explosion within an explosion, perhaps). The author distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ nostalgia, where good nostalgia is seen as the aesthetic and fashionable parts, and bad encompasses the negative aspects that occurred during the era of that ‘aesthetics’, especially politically. The author also attempted to define how to differentiate good from bad nostalgia, but I couldn’t quite grasp this part, as the author was running out of time and rushing. For the research examples, the author chose two music videos: The Weeknd’s “Blinded by the Lights” and SOPHIE’s “Faceshopping”. Unfortunately, they couldn’t delve into a detailed analysis due to time constraints. I believe the discussion went on and they watched these videos with the presenter, but unfortunately, the online viewers did not get to enjoy this as the Zoom channel was shut down to view the videos. Overall, the presentation was very interesting, but it seemed like the author tried to cover too many topics in too short of a time. Nonetheless, they were very knowledgeable about the subject in question.

Coming Out of the Crypt: The Twilight Renaissance and Queering Heteronormative Narratives – Quentin “Vassa” Swaryczewski 

The final presentation I want to discuss was the most engaging one at the HUMA conference (in my humble opinion). Delivered by Quentin “Vassa” Swaryczewski, their presentation titled “Coming Out of the Crypt: The Twilight Renaissance and Queering Heteronormative Narratives,” offered a fresh perspective. 

The topic chosen in this case was the Twilight saga’s resurgence in popularity and its reflection on modern queer narratives. The author started by expressing a personal connection to the topic, that I believe many can relate to, indicating that their insights were enriched by their own experiences and opinions. This personal touch added a unique layer of authenticity to the presentation. Swaryczewski’s humor was personally one of the most notable elements of the presentation, infusing it with an engaging and approachable tone. They effectively used humor not just in their spoken content but also through witty and cleverly designed slides that not only reflected their knowledge in the series but also on the web platform in question, Tumblr, and the culture around it. This approach made the complex subject matter more accessible and enjoyable for the audience. 

The core of the research centered around the Twilight series’ revival of interest, particularly within the Tumblr community in 2016. It was fascinating to see how a series initially framed in a heteronormative context underwent a transformation or, as Swaryczewski termed it, a “renaissance” in the digital age, acquiring a queer reinterpretation. The presenter delved into Tumblr’s role as a “queer ecosystem,” a space where these new interpretations and narratives flourished. Swaryczewski’s discussion on the concepts “fandom” and “desatinitzation”4 was insightful, offering a nuanced look into how communities engage with and reinterpret popular culture. A notable highlight was the introduction of terms like “babygirlification,” which underscored the playful yet critical approach the author adopted. This concept, along with others, demonstrated the dynamic and evolving language within these online communities. Swaryczewski also showcased specific examples from Tumblr, including screenshots of posts, which illustrated the tangible impact of these discussions within the fandom. These examples grounded the theoretical aspects of the presentation in real-world expressions of fandom culture. In conclusion, while the presentation was highly entertaining and informative, the humor sometimes overshadowed the deeper academic insights. Nevertheless, the blend of personal anecdotes, humor, and scholarly analysis created a multifaceted and memorable lecture. As someone who experienced Tumblr culture firsthand during my teenage years, I found the topic personally resonant, and I would be eager to hear more about Swaryczewski’s final findings. 

In reflecting on the overall experience of attending these presentations via Zoom, it is important to note the limitations of this medium. While Zoom provided a valuable platform for connecting with these diverse topics and speakers, the inability to physically attend and interact with the presenters and other attendees meant that some nuances and subtleties of the presentations might have been lost. Despite these constraints, the selection of talks I attended offered a rich and varied insight into contemporary academic discussions, each unique in its approach and subject matter.

Photo by: HUMA sügiskool 2023

  1.  This is because I attended school, from the 1st grade until the 9th, in Finland where religious studies are somewhat mandatory.  ↩︎
  2. This is my own understanding of the study, not something the presenter said.
  3.  A semiotic object. ↩︎
  4.  The term “desatinitzation,” referring to the act of tarnishing or spoiling something, was particularly interesting in the context of how fandoms can both celebrate and critique the media they love.

hortus semioticus

Hortus Semioticus is a peer reviewed online journal of semiotics featuring new generation of semiotic researchers.

Hortus Semioticus on eelretsenseeritav semiootika võrguajakiri, mis on pühendatud uue põlvkonna semiootilistele uurimustele.


Our blog is a digital resource where everyone passionate about semiotics can share their knowledge, questions and experience on stuff that matters.

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