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The unifying force of Bob Dylan

When DIAS Chairs Anne-Marie Mai and Jørgen Ellegaard Andersen joined forces to study Bob Dylan’s impact on his fans’ lives, they not only found that “The Bard’s” songs help his fans navigate through life's highs and lows, but their research also underlined the benefits of collaborating across disciplines.

On 23-24 May 2024, a group of leading international Bob Dylan researchers met at the University of Southern Denmark to discuss one of the major Dylan topics of the time: masculinity. 

The aptly titled conference "Bob Dylan: Question of Masculinities". was led by Professor Erin Callahan of San Jacinto College and Professor and DIAS Chair Anne-Marie Mai of SDU. Here, Mai had the pleasure to share the results of a quite special research study:  Not only was “Images of Bob Dylan” the first ever academic questionnaire survey centered around Dylan, but it also paved the way for collaboration between two fields that seemingly have little in common. With almost 2000 respondents, Anne-Marie Mai joined forces with Jørgen Ellegaard Andersen, Professor, Director, and DIAS Chair, and his research team from SDU’s Centre for Quantum Mathematics to analyse the large dataset. 

As “Images of Bob Dylan” explores Bob Dylan's image as perceived by his fans and followers around the world, Ellegaard Andersen and his team made it possible to conduct an in-depth analysis that identified clear patterns in the respondents’ answers. The study is thus a clear cut example of  what an interdisciplinary research environment can facilitate: innovative modes of collaboration that unlock novel perspectives.

A finding that sparked noteworthy interest at the conference is that particularly men have used Dylan's songs to become better at dealing with emotional challenges, getting through life crises, and finding existential understandings of their lives. But Dylan, through his lyrics and songs, has nevertheless also been a fixture during joyful moments in the lives of his fans and followers:

“I quoted him when asking out the girl who became my wife,” explains one respondent. 

‘He Has the Whole Package: Lyrics, Melodies, Enigmatic, mythical’: Images of Bob Dylan – Results of Questionnaire is published by Aktualitet and is available open source at 

Read the study here.

Editing was completed: 24.06.2024