The Physiology of Vice
Name: Virginia Langum
Despite being a concept invented in the early centuries of Christianity, the seven deadly sins – pride, envy, wrath, greed, lust, sloth and gluttony – still play a role in our life today. Whether it is in movies, articles, commercials, or even science, the framework of the seven sins is still widely applied. With her research project “The Physiology of Vice”, Virginia Langum builds the bridge from medieval religious beliefs to modern neuroscience and genetics.
“I study the seven deadly sins in context of religion and medicine in medieval texts. Vice was an ethical and physiological category in the Middle Ages; sin and disease were seen as correlated. For example, the medical symptoms of swelling and fever were considered to bear both a symbolic and a physiological relation to the sin of wrath. Thus in the context of confession, diagnosis and treatment of the soul is often inextricable with diagnosis and treatment of the body,” explains Virginia Langum, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Language Department and the Umeå Group for Pre-Modern Studies.
By studying medical imagery in religious texts and religious imagery in medical texts, Virginia Langum aims to understand the nature of the relationship between religion and medicine, ethics and physiology. Although these texts were written in the Middle Ages, her research topic is by no means outdated: “From about 500 to 1500 CE, the seven deadly sins were a standard ethical framework in Christian theology. However, they have never been eclipsed in the popular imagination. The sins are frequently used today in newspaper articles, advertising and marketing, for example to sell ice cream,” says Virginia Langum.
Also in more serious ways, her research is of modern relevance. She elaborates: “We see contemporary discussions reinvent, reinscribe, and re-centre the sins as ethical concepts, for example ‘greed’ as cited by the Occupy movement. Also, the connection of ethics and physiology, the relationship between body and soul, has been discussed from pre-modern times up till today. Questions like ‘How responsible are we for our actions? What control do we have over our bodies and emotions?’ are still fundamental. They are studied in neuroscience and genetics, and some scientists have even used the seven deadly sins as an organising principle.”
Virginia Langum herself, however, is definitely not guilty of committing the sins of gluttony or sloth: “I am a bodybuilder and currently training to take part in competitions in Gothenburg and Oslo. Therefore, I am on a strict diet.” In Umeå, she found the perfect facilities for her workouts at the IKSU sports centre: “IKSU is a great community. I get a lot of support and motivation there.”
Originally from the United States, Virginia Langum came to Umeå in October 2011. Not only has she embraced the northern winter sport activities, but also the work culture at Umeå University: “The work environment is very supportive and innovative. You can be a self-starter here. I enjoy the good work-life-balance. I have never for one moment regretted my decision to come to Umeå.”
Name: Virginia Langum
Profession: Postdoctoral Researcher at the Language Department and the Umeå Group for Pre-Modern Studies
Leisure activities: training, embroidery, winter activities in Umeå
Likes to read: James Salter, Mary Gaitskill, Vladimir Nabokov
Likes to eat: Salsa, cottage cheese, smoked reindeer