Biblical Studies

Mette Bundvad (University of Copenhagen, mbu@teol.ku.dk)

This panel reflects on issues related to transition, migration, and power in the context of the Bible and its reception. The writers and interpreters of biblical texts participate in an ongoing construction and reimagining of communities that perceive themselves as displaced, exiled or journeying. We also consider borders in the context of communities who produce and interpret biblical texts. For example, how may we think about the borders of such communities? How do the members of specific interpretive groups define themselves as a group and in relation to outsiders? How are such borders reinforced or challenged in the artistic, religious and political reception of a group’s textual production? Similarly, papers may explore borders between interpretive communities. How do these communities conceptualize and describe the distance between themselves and other communities, either along a historical axis or in their contemporary context? And what happens to an interpretive group or tradition as it migrates—geographically, from one community to another, or from one literary or artistic medium to another?


Session One: Boundaries in Theory

Friday 9th September, 1.30 – 3.00 p.m.

1.     Mary Mills (Liverpool Hope University, memills344@gmail.com)

Reading the City from the Wilderness in Jonah 3-4

The aim of this paper is to explore the way in which Jonah 3-4 explores the cultural significance of a ‘great city’. In these chapters the prophet first encounters the city from within its walled setting and then observes it from the outside—a doubled encounter which highlights the ambiguous nature of cities as safe havens. Ancient cities operated as storehouses for grain and other necessities of human survival, opening out the urban to the rural. Modern attitudes to city life have noted the regulatory and ordered condition of city systems as compared with the free growth of the natural environment. For Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts the porous boundary between order and freedom can be labelled an ‘edgeland’, which provides a vocabulary for examining the interrelationship between deity, prophet and city in Jonah and interpreting the plot and characterisation by which the book of Jonah delivers its message. The paper uses three motifs from the modern work as inter-textual tools for interrogating the biblical material— paths, dens and wasteland. These three topics respectively offer a theoretical perspective for investigating spatial ambivalence—pathways through life events, secret outside places of risk, the wasteland hermit and the task of looking. Hence the paper provides an example of contemporary reception of the biblical text via the interdisciplinary reading lens of spatiality.

2.     Ashleigh Elser (University of Virginia, ashleigh.elser@gmail.com)

Beyond the Breach: What Literary Readers of the Bible Might Learn from Higher Criticism

Over the last century, literary approaches to the Bible have staked their claim in the field in oppositional terms: as a viable alternative to (or even a necessary deliverance from) the modes of reading and interpretation advanced by higher critical scholarship. The terms of this interpretive antagonism have been long been advanced in the polemical prefaces of literary guides to the Bible. There, literary readers as early as Richard Moulton and as late as Robert Alter draw clear lines in the sand between their own ‘literary’ investments and the largely distortive modes of reading advanced by the ‘historical’ investments of higher critical scholarship. The narrative discrepancies and compositional fissures foregrounded by higher critical scholarship are framed by these readers as largely irrelevant to the task of literary interpretation. By means of this polemical breach, reading the Bible as literature came to be strictly partitioned off from interpretive questions posed by the Bible’s internal frictions and the conflicts between the Bible’s competing narrators. Literary reading of the Bible came to be associated with an aesthetic reverence for the ‘final form’ of the text and an underlying commitment to the canon’s stylistic and narrative unity. In this paper, I will offer a brief history of the under-examined polemical foundations of literary approaches to the Bible. Then, I will make a case for why literary readers ought to see past these self-erected borders in their engagement with biblical narratives. Looking at Genesis’s divergent characterizations of Abraham as one salient example, I will argue that attention to conflicts between biblical narrators might yield more than matters of merely ‘historical’ concern. That is, the juxtaposition of divergent representations of Abraham’s character gives rise to thought, to new questions for literary readers and to new ways of considering characterization and genre in biblical literature.

3.     Jonathan Downing (University of Bristol, jd15739@bristol.ac.uk)

Should We Let Southcottians Interpret the Bible? A Modest Proposal for Taking ‘Prophetic’Interpretation Seriously in the Academy

Southcottianism is a prophetic religious movement that originated with the scandalising claims of Joanna Southcott (d.1814), a domestic servant from Devon, who claimed that she was the embodiment of ‘the woman clothed with the sun’ from Revelation 12. She inspired a global movement of believers— many of whom pledged their allegiance to subsequent figures who claimed to share her prophetic inspiration after her death and the movement persists today (albeit in vastly reduced numbers). Southcottians were voracious readers of the Bible, and their prophetic leaders provided hermeneutical keys for scriptural interpretation. Their resultant interpretations of biblical texts are idiosyncratic, to say the least. Yet their readings of texts such as Genesis 3, Genesis 49:10, and Galatians 4:26 not only gave the movement a distinct theological identity, but they also prompted action: Southcottians used the Bible to construct innovative ideas about gender, and embarked on elaborate building projects to catalyse the fulfilment of their prophetic hopes. Taking Southcottian biblical interpretation seriously raises important questions for modern biblical studies. Does a field which, in modernity, stressed the importance of a critical distance between the biblical text and its interpreter (and which placed its greatest emphasis on ‘historical’ criticism of the text) have any room to engage with these views? Has the burgeoning interest in reception history opened up sufficient room to explore what Kenneth Newport calls the ‘eisegesis’ of prophetic movements? How can biblical scholars contribute to the study of new religious movements, amidst competition from historians and social scientists? This paper suggests that engaging with the biblical interpretation of traditions like Southcottianism exposes a number of contentious ‘lines in the sand’ that strike at the heart of biblical studies’ identity in the modern academy.

Session Two: Migration and Border-Making in Historical Receptions of the Bible


Saturday 10th September, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.

1.     John T. P. Lai (Chinese University of Hong Kong, johntpl@cuhk.edu.hk)

Biblical Stories Retold and Transformed: Chinese Catholic Dramatic Texts in the Early 20th Century

Early Chinese Christians, generally regarded as adherents of a ‘foreign’ or ‘heterodox’ religion, became to some extent ‘segregated’ or ‘exiled’ within their own cultural context. In the aftermath of the Opium War (1839-42), a new wave of Catholic missionaries returned to China after the prohibition of Catholicism by the Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722). After the collapse of the Qing imperial regime in 1911, a corpus of dramatic texts was published by the Catholic presses in early 20th century China. Some biblical stories, for instance Noah, Joseph, David, Tobit and Maccabees, were creatively retold and transformed in a variety of dramatic genres, including traditional Chinese opera, folk performing arts and modern spoken drama. These performative texts were periodically put on stage in Catholic churches, schools, and orphanages during religious festivals and celebrations. The staging of biblical dramas performed important functions: dramatizing the history of salvation, providing edified entertainment, reinforcing religious identity and communal solidarity within the Chinese Catholic church. This paper investigates the Chinese reception and transformation of the Bible through dramatic texts, and the ways in which members of the Catholic community perceived and defined themselves as a distinctive group on the borders of the mainstream Chinese society.

2.     Gareth Evan-Jones (University of Bangor, wep00a@bangor.ac.uk)

The ‘Children of Ham’ and the ‘Race of Gomer’

This paper will be looking at the gradual transition in the way power relations between master and slave were perceived by reference to a passage commonly known as the ‘Curse of Ham’. The narrative occurs in Genesis 9 and tells the story of Noah and his sons after the flood. Despite the text stating that ‘Canaan’ and his progeny were to be the bearers of a curse, pro-slavery apologists during the antebellum period in the United States believed that Ham, the son of Noah, had also been included. Since the genealogical list of the sons of Noah notes that the Egyptians and Ethiopians, peoples whose countries are located on the continent of Africa, are among Ham’s descendants (Gen. 10:6-10), the apologists reasoned that the contemporary Africans had inherited the curse and were therefore to be held in servitude. Particular attention will also be given to how many antislavery advocates would also regard the African slaves as the ‘children of Ham’ but in a quite different way; one interesting example is the Welsh migrants of the 19th century. The paper will demonstrate how those Welsh-Americans would regularly refer to the African slaves as the ‘children of Ham’ in articles, prose pieces and poetry published in their journals and newspapers, in such a way as to promote an antislavery stance. The Welsh would regularly refer to themselves as the ‘race of Gomer’— Gomer who was the son of Japheth, brother of Ham. The belief that all of humanity originated from Eden was still influential during this period therefore it can be suggested that the Welsh referred to the slaves in such a way in order to incite their fellow countrymen to stand against the proslavery cause, and strive for the liberty of the African slaves, their extended family.

3.     John Lyons (University of Bristol, thwjl@bristol.ac.uk) and Mike Gulliver (University of Bristol)

Enforced Migration in Victorian London: The Curious Case of the Marginalised Deaf and the Hearing Mainstream

While it is tempting to view migrations as involving great distances, history also offers us examples where crossing boundaries involved no distance at all. One such is the attempt by philanthropists to move 2000 deaf people in Victorian London from a marginal space, viewed as exclusionary, dissolute, and heathen-like, into what they considered to be a mainstream ‘faithful’ space, the inhabitation of which would ready the deaf for their ultimate destination, a heaven in which they would hear. Historically few people’s lives have been as circumscribed by a tiny clutch of biblical texts as have those of the deaf. Defined by the interaction between the deity’s testimony to their state’s divine origin (Exod. 4.11), an unshakable association with stigma-related labels (Isa. 6.9-10), an oft-unrealised hope for healing (Mk 7.32-37), and being cut off from ‘hearing’ the Gospel (Rom. 10.14-15), they were left to fend as best they could within the spaces in which they found themselves. 19th century sign language development allowed different interactions between the Bible and the deaf, however. In a Britain where Christians wished to save the Empire’s heathens, seeing the deaf as a mission field meant that philanthropic giving enabled a charity, ‘The Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb’, to help London’s deaf in profane terms and to ensure their entry into heaven through its chaplains’ preaching in the ‘finger and sign language’. Since neither Victorian science nor prayer could heal, the Association positioned itself through its use of biblical texts and images as the inheritor of Jesus’ ministry to the deaf. Its success in ‘helping’ them to migrate from their margin to its ‘mainstream’ is undeniable, but the subsequent domination of deaf-composed writings by a heaven requiring a mandatory future healing suggests that in fact one marginal space had been swapped for another.

Session Three: Biblical Reception, Cultural Identities and Group Boundaries Today

Saturday 10th September, 2.45 – 4.15 p.m.

1.     Fiona Black (Mount Allison University, fblack@mta.ca)

Tourist Bo(a)rders: Bahamian Bodies, the Bible, and Sexual Tourism

This paper explores the borders of Bahamian bodies and the incursions that national discourses and practices around tourism—and indeed tourists themselves—make into their midst. Specifically, I am interested in how these relations are mediated by a biblically-based culture, which works most obviously to manage perceptions of the body and sexual conduct, binding these in the expected ways (androcentric, heteronormative, racially white). For example, the island nation’s legal position on forms of sexual ‘immorality’ such as homosexuality is harsh; the criminal code dictates that ‘sodomy’ is illegal and punishable by incarceration. Biblical texts and appeals to Christian values bolster public discourse around such issues. At the same time, the economic realities of life in the Caribbean make tourism an extremely attractive and lucrative prospect. Tourism, historically, has drawn on the Bahamas’ biblical morality to convince would-be travellers of its desirability as a holiday destination; today, it also repeatedly uses biblical myths such as paradise, to compete for business. However, tourists and off-shore buyers also complicate tourism’s attempted monologism, in that they pursue the kinds of connections and relations that the islands’ biblical culture typically resists, such as sexual tourism, or gay cruises. The paper explores these contradictions, using some biblical texts on traveling and sexual boundaries and borders to think with, such as Joshua 2; Song 5:4; and Genesis 38. It also takes up the work of M. Alexander, J. Puar, and S. Ahmed, as well as some material in tourism studies, to locate this conversation in an affective, nationalist framework.

2.     Bishop M.T. Makobe (University of Venda, makobe.b@dhet.gov.za)

Reclaiming the National and Cultural Identity of the Bible with Special Reference to the Sotho Language Communities : The Bible as Part of Africa’s Heritage

Africa is the most mentioned country in the Bible, apart from today’s Middle East. Most of the events in the Bible took place between the two regions and its people. The people had their own cultural identities, own myths and own symbols and meanings attached to them. All these are reflected and mirrored in their different worldviews. The Bible reflects dreams, aspirations and hopes and lived experiences of the inhabitants of those two regions at the time. Throughout history, Africa has been denied of its recorded cultural heritage and scholars throughout have divided it into Sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa. Northern Africa has always been associated with the Middle East. The paper seeks to position Africa as one country, with different cultures and languages, different belief systems, from North to South and from West to East. The paper seeks to reclaim African boundaries of national and cultural identity in religion, literature and the arts by situating the Bible within the Sotho language communities. Through recorded oral forms, literary forms and techniques, the paper traces the historical interpretive migration of the new translated Good News Bible from classical languages to modern European languages to the translated Southern African Sotho language. By examining the similarities on cultural and religious practices, the article concludes by reclaiming the contents and events in the Bible as part of the Sotho language communities’ heritage which should be recorded as such and be celebrated with dignity. Through geographical migration and translation, the Sotho language communities regard the Bible as their Tangible Cultural Heritage and thus a source of their Intangible Cultural Heritage and this explains why there is a Bible in each of the more than 16 million Sotho language communities in Africa.

3.     Jerusha Matsen Neal (Davuilevu Theological College, matsenneal@gmail.com)

Exodus or Exile: Hermeneutic Shifts in a Shifting Fijian Methodist Church

Over the past 20 years, the effects of globalization, climate change and multiple military coups have reshaped the Fijian landscape. The ‘lines in the sand’ around issues of land ownership, rising tides and Fijian identity have complicated the relationship between the Fijian Methodist Church and the land which grounds its culture. The historical fissures between the majority Methodist indigenous church and Fiji’s large Hindu population continue to place the rights of first peoples over and against the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, even as the country’s secular government stresses the possibility of harmony. The church’s primary responses to these demographic, political and environmental changes have been homiletic and hermeneutic. In spite of declining membership and reduced political influence, the church’s present experience has been re-read as a ‘New Exodus’ journey toward a promised land. This theme of ‘New Exodus’ has become a dominant trope in sermons, church education events and Fijian Methodist self-understanding. A more complicated hermeneutic, however, mines the biblical theme of exile to describe the current situation. In iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) understanding, the vanua, or land, connotes the traditional culture of those who live on that land. As change impacts the culture of indigenous village life, the land itself is understood to change. Though 80% of Fijian land is tribally held, many Fijian Methodists experience the land on which they have lived for generations as suddenly unfamiliar. My paper will explore these disparate biblical readings of the Fijian Methodist experience through a homiletic analysis of two Fijian sermons, pointing to the importance of pulpit rhetoric in creating new conceptions of place and direction in a world where familiar markers are washing away.



Continental Philosophy and Religion

Andrew Hass (University of Stirling, andrew.hass@stirling.ac.uk) and

Daniel Whistler (University of Liverpool, daniel.whistler@liverpool.ac.uk)

The philosophical question of the line, as border, boundary, or threshold, yields to questions of spacing and placing, to limits and finitude, which in turn lead to questions of discernibility, distinction and difference, and of traversal, transgression, and transcendence. A ‘line in the sand’ brings even further issues: impermanence and permeability, or ethically, confrontation and provisionality. Continental philosophy offers many ‘lines’ to this line, and this panel invites papers to explore the manifold lines that can be drawn, and that necessarily intersect with art (the literally drawn line), with literature (the fictional line), with religion (the sacred line) and/or with culture (the produced line), in a manner that shows how any proper philosophical discussion of the line will always cross disciplinary lines.

Session One

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

1.     Juan Arana Cobos (University of Liverpool, arana@liv.ac.uk)

Delimiting Space and the Resurrection of Art

The encounter with the Neolithic Basque cromlech meant an epiphany for sculptor Jorge Oteiza. According to him, the enclosed space within these modest circles of stones exemplified the discovery of authentic art, that is; art as sacrament and the final solution to the tragic sense of life that he inherited from pre-existentialist philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. ‘The circle is terrible’ cryptically said another Basque sculptor, Eduardo Chillida. Oteiza’s archenemy saw in the deconstruction of the equally rounded funerary stelae of the Basque country a source of inspiration for his work. Chillida’s work illustrated the first edition of Martin Heidegger’s Die Kunst und der Raum. This book, along with other works by Heidegger, deal with aspects that have to do with the delimitation of space as a means to assign worldliness (meaning) to the world. The circle would thus delimit the totality of meaningful space. In all, the delimitation of space by sculptors Oteiza and Chillida is a process of explanation as well as re-creation of a new identity, but it could also imply the possibility of a type of sacred art that overcomes contemporary interpretations of the death of art. Is there a need to return to sacramental art for its resurrection? Would non-representational art be the solution to riddles posed by the avant-garde movements of the beginning of the twentieth century in regards to the end of art? The poetics of space of philosophers such as Heidegger try to make us understand the way in which the world is conceptually organized. Could this philosophical approach come to terms with the institutional theory of art in order to bring back the history of philosophy to its starting point by way of a deferred action (Nachträglichkeit)?

2.     Helen Andersson (University of Uppsala, helen.andersson@teol.uu.se)

Assault on the Borders: Hélène Cixous on Animals and the Human

Despite the continual displacement of nearly every established conception of the human, the figure of the human remains a powerful idea for political and ethical theorizing. In the era of human rights, the language of dehumanization has become a dominant frame for accounting for and criticizing a wide range of abuses and social harms. Likewise, the human has come to mark a status that promises protection from the dehumanizing effects of violence, discrimination and other modes of injustice. Cixous’ recent work on the concept have contributed to this discussion by providing an analysis of the borders between what we call human and inhuman and by pointing to the precarious conditions of hospitality towards other beings (human and nonhuman). This paper examines the place of the human and animals in Cixous’ work. It takes the figure of Fips, the dog of the Cixous family in Algiers, as a starting point. By thinking through this figure, Cixous analyses the dehumanizing logic of colonialism and anti-Semitism in Algeria and develops her own response to it, arguing for human relationality and animal corporeality. The paper shows that Cixous’ primal encounter with Fips produces a stigma that, belatedly, ruptures the barrier between herself and this specific dog; its dehiscence reveals a profound ‘animal humanity’ generated by suffering, finitude, and compassion. The lesson Cixous learns from revivifying the memory of the Dog is how to become ‘more human’. This becoming is also an assault on the false humanism of the colonial project, on the closed Gates as markers of colonial dehumanization and racialized social exclusion. The lesson of hospitality Cixous learns by another primal event: the resurrection of Fips in the form of another animal – the unexpected arrival of a cat (Thea) that puts conditional hospitality into question simply by demanding (and giving) an unconditional hospitality.

3.     Maria Essunger (University of Uppsala, maria.essunger@teol.uu.se)

Playing with Words or Changing the World? Thinking New with Benjamin and Cixous

In a transnational context, the French-Algerian philosopher and poet Hélène Cixous (1937- ) makes her Jewish voice heard by crossing borders and asking questions. She acts through novels, theoretical essays, dramas and critical poetry when she writes and re-writes her life story as, what I would like to call, a boundary body. In her auto-biographical writings Cixous exposes her own body as a boundary with the aim of crystallizing her otherness as a female Jewish foreigner in Algeria. This is concretized in her néologisme ‘Juifemme’ (‘Jewoman’) as a token of her own predicament. At the same time, this body is not only a boundary, it is also a breakpoint. Cixous writes through and thanks to her body, a visible symbol of invisible borders (sexual, religious, and geographical). Her aesthetical and ethical strategy of destabilizing normative structures through word plays, irony and grammatical deconstructions is forceful, but it works in subtle ways. What might seem like a simple literal faux pas, is no less than a concentrated and philosophically elaborated statement. In this paper I will argue that Cixous’ notion ‘Algeriance’ is a sign of hope, in the midst of a colonial tragedy exposed by a memory come alive, through a close reading of her essay ‘My Algeriance, in other words: to depart not to arrive from Algeria’ in her novel So close. Walter Benjamin’s creative text on language and naming (‘On Language as Such and on the Language of Man’) will be my theoretical interlocutor or, differently put, my critical friend in this explorative thinking.

Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.

Rm 202, 4 University Gardens

1. Andrew Hass (University of Stirling, andrew.hass@stirling.ac.uk)

Crossing the Line: The Sacred as Creative Transgression in Hegel


Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature begins with a discussion of space, which in turn begins with the point, which gives way to the line, which in turn gives way to the plane. The ‘giving way’ is in each case a negation, or a sublation, which is possible by way of each stage – point, line, plane – existing outside of itself in relation to the totality of space. The image of the ‘line in the sand’ will act as an appropriate threshold, perhaps even limit-experience, between the natural and the spiritual in Hegel’s more mature thought. A line drawn in the sand is not merely a line, but a negation, by way or removal or excavation, of the ‘points’ represented by each grain of sand, while also a negation of the plane of the flat surface upon which the line is drawn. But the ‘line in the sand’ is itself a concept that carries consequences for its crossing. For the ancients this concept was not in conflict with the natural world, since the concept could mark out the sacred space within nature, as it did for Oedipus before and within the sacred grove at Colonus. This paper will explore how Hegel reformulates the ancient threshold between the natural world and the sacred not only by means of a line in the sand between classical art and contemporary culture, but also between art and philosophy as such. This redrawn line will suggest that the sacred, as a creatively negated space, is inexorably external, but that its very externality is always succumbing to its own negation. As a crossing the line (as much as a crossing out the line), this succumbing will in turn hold religion to a certain transgressive nature; the figure of Sophocles’ Antigone will help us to envision a creative transgression.

2. Mattias Martinson (University of Uppsala, mattias.martinson@teol.uu.se)

Thin Lines in a Thick Narrative: Parrhesia, Exagoreusis and Modernity in Michel Foucault’s Late Philosophy of Truth

In his very last lecture series from 1984, Michel Foucault merely touches upon what seems in his view to be an almost absolute difference between a truly ascetic way of life and the modern Christian religious life, especially the protestant, in which he sees no real opening for visions of truth. However, to say the least, Foucault is not clear about the lines he draws between asceticism in its Greek philosophical and Christian religious forms. Christian asceticism is in some cases viewed as being of major importance precisely for the development of the modern conformist form of religion that he shuns. Given his central notion parrhesia, truth-telling, one can safely say that the model for Foucault’s asceticism is found in the pre-Christian sources, but given his lecture series on truth-praxis in early Christianity (1980) the picture is still somewhat blurred. In Christianity he finds several traits that lead him, on the one hand, toward the conclusion that the modern subject is a Christian subject. On the other hand, however, his eyes for the truth-praxis in pre-Christian Greek texts seems in a way to be opened precisely by his study of early Christian texts. In this paper I will sketch this scenery a bit more carefully and then relate Foucault’s notion of parrhesia to his notion of exagoreusis, which seems to be a kind of Christian version of parrhesia – and yet not exactly so. This will finally lead to the question whether there is a ‘Christian’ dimension in Foucault’s understanding of the Greek parrhesia.

3. Petra Carlsson (University of Uppsala, petra.carlsson@ths.se)

Erase and Redraw: Performativity in Early Christianity

In 1967, in an essay titled ‘Fantasia of the library’ Michel Foucault writes enthusiastically on Gustave Flaubert’s Saint Anthony. In Foucault’s view, Flaubert’s narrative depicts a purely material and performative account of Christian practice. A decade later, in his last lecture series on Christianity, Foucault turns to the Christian sources themselves. Rather than finding a performative account of spirituality in these texts, however, he sees instead the starting point for the later Western fixation with the true self. According Foucault’s reading of Cassian, the Christian confession of the self is intensified and its truth claims are enhanced in Cassian’s monastery rule. With Cassian, Foucault claims, a sharp break with the earlier Christian practice of exomologesis is replaced by a practice of exagoreusis thus paving the way for what is later to become the modern elevation of the subject and modernity’s obsession with the true self. In this paper, however, I would like to suggest that the reading of Cassian could have led Foucault to a different account of early Christianity. Cassian’s Institutes, I will argue, expresses a notion of spiritual life that is not far from the material and performative account of spiritual practice that Foucault finds in Flaubert’s Saint Anthony. On basis of such a re-reading, the monastery tradition founded by Cassian could be seen to play a very different role in the Christian thought tradition. In fact, it could be seen to destabilize later Christian truth claims and confessional demands by advocating Christian monastery life as a performative deputy creating rather than revealing truths about the self.

Session Three

Sunday 11th September, 10.45 a.m. – 12.15 p.m.

1.     Daniel Whistler (University of Liverpool, daniel.whistler@liverpool.ac.uk)

Lines of Flight from God in Cendrars’ Epic Trilogy

This paper traces the journey from the death-of-God to the apparition of an immanent, secular realm taken in Blaise Cendrars’ poetic trilogy, Easter in New York, Prose of the Trans-Siberian and Panama. The paper begins with a discussion of a passage from Deleuze’s Cinema II as context for this journey. It is this punning double-effacement of plot and historical depth that forms the condition for Cendrars’ attempted indifference to God and his death. Throughout the paper, this contrast will inform an implicit debate between the nostalgic conception of homelessness that one finds in Heidegger and Lévinas and Cendrars’ celebration of the nomadic. Easter in New York remains stuck in meditation on vertical relations with what is above and below, trapped in one place on one dismal Good Friday. However, the exhaustion Cendrars feels towards these old problems gives way neither to cynicism nor the death of writing, but rather to an affirmative indifference that neutralises the God-relationship in the name of something else. The remaining poems enact an escape from New York into the wilds of Asia and South America. In place of the vertical God-relationship, there proliferate horizontal linkages between city, jungle and tundra, connected paratactically, ‘And… And…’. The journey of the three poems is also a poetic liberation from the static verse of tradition to something more frantic: the loose Alexandrines of Easter in New York are replaced with the utterly free verse of Prose of the Trans-Siberian and Panama. The struggle against stasis, nostalgia and homesickness is poetically enacted through a dynamic form – a form that consists in a perpetual aggregation of image after image into a two-dimensional assemblage. Parataxis engulfs measure to form a ‘new geometry’ – and it is this secular geometry that my paper will scrutinise.

2.     Gavin Rae (University of Madrid, grae@hum.uc3m.es)

Tension From, Through, and Around the Line: Carl Schmitt’s Complexio Oppositorum and the Question of Political Theology

The status of the line that both divides and unites the political and the theological has always been a troubling one for political theology. It is no surprise to find, therefore, that this issue has come to the fore once more as a consequence of contemporary continental philosophy’s resurgence in interest in political theology, an occurrence accompanied by resurgence in interest in the work of Carl Schmitt. Starting with the premise that Schmitt’s notion of the political is grounded in a particular theological understanding based around his often-ignored notion of the complexio oppositorum, this paper demonstrates that, first, the complexio oppositorum is divided around metaphysical and epistemological aspects. The metaphysical aspect describes the structure of reality which is understood to be generated from the tension between two opposing moments. As such, the line between two objects distinguishes and unites the two in a way that is fundamental to the existence of each. This tension means, however, that there is always a necessary gap between two actualities, one that can never be overcome or ‘filled.’ Epistemologically speaking, this means that knowledge always contains a lacuna and so must be based in faith in the truth of a particular conclusion rather than in the rational demonstration of that truth-claim. Second, this metaphysical-epistemological relationship is important to Schmitt’s conception of the political (and, by extension, sovereignty) because it reveals that the limitation of human cognition, itself an effect of the lacuna inherent to the complexio oppositorum, means that all human action, including the political decision, is grounded in epistemic faith in the truth of the chosen end. This leads to a distinction between two conceptions of theology, termed here ‘theology in the sense of divine revelation’ and ‘theology in the sense of epistemic faith’.

3.     Emma Andrea Ingala Gomez (University of Madrid, eaingala@filos.ucm.es)

Catachresis and Mis-Being in Judith Butler and Étienne Balibar: Contemporary Refigurations of the Human as a Face Drawn in the Sand

In the last lines of The Order of Things, Michel Foucault wagers that the human will be erased like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea. Due to the continuing dominance of the antihumanist perspective and the proliferation of post-human studies, this was understood and promoted, along with the Death of the Subject that was to complete the Death of God, to entail an absolute disappearance. However, the last ten years or so have seen a number of philosophers that belong to this theoretical lineage return to a certain notion of the subject and the human to overcome a set of critiques aimed at, and paradoxes resulting from, the initial antihumanist position. After briefly exploring these critiques and paradoxes, my aim is to (1) revise our understanding of Foucault’s metaphor away from one that reads it in terms of the complete extinction of the human to one that sees it as being a gesture that invites us to re-draw the human face once the sea has erased the previous one; (2) suggest, from this perspective, that the oscillation and tension between the drawing and re-drawing of the notion of the human is not accidental or misfortunate, but the very ‘(in)essence’ that constitutes the human condition; (3) explore the figures of the human that Judith Butler and Étienne Balibar provide (catachresis and mis-being, respectively) in order to rethink the notion of the human incorporating the antihumanist scope but also responding to the critiques and paradoxes associated with this perspective; and (4) examine very briefly the role that literature plays in this resignification of the human through Judith Butler’s use of Kafka’s Odradek or Antigone, and Balibar’s comments on a poem by Robert Browning.





Hannah Marije Altorf (St Mary’s University, hm.altorf@stmarys.ac.uk)

The art of dialogue can create a space in which borders can be crossed, and fixed identities and answers challenged. Dialogues often take place at the border, just before or after a conflict, or before or after a situation in which no communication was possible. Dialogues can be border experiences themselves, determining what can and what cannot be said. Dialogues create concrete examples of such border crossings and border experiences. In Teaching to Transgress bell hooks writes:

It is fashionable these days, when ‘difference’ is a hot topic in progressive circles, to talk about ‘hybridity’ and ‘border crossing’, but we often have no concrete examples of individuals who actually occupy different locations within structures, sharing ideas with one another, mapping out terrains of commonality, connection, and shared concern with teaching practices. (1994, pp. 129-30)

This panel invites 20-minute papers that present and reflect on a practice of dialogue at the border: dialogues in which borders are transgressed, and dialogues in or as border experiences.

Session One

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

Rm 202, 4 University Gardens

 1.     Yasemin J. Erden (St Mary’s University, Twickenham, yj.erden@stmarys.ac.uk)

Disciplinary Dialogue: At and Across the Borders

Interdisciplinary work requires the transgression of disciplinary borders. But what does it mean to say that disciplines have a border; what must be within, what outside, and how to work between or across them? This paper will argue that while disciplinary borders are not arbitrary, nor are they necessary or a priori. In so doing, some differences between approaches that support disciplinary boundaries will be considered, alongside beliefs about interdisciplinary work. The Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) is one such example, as well as disciplinary specific research funding councils. The paper suggests that beliefs about disciplinary borders encompass a number of other beliefs, as well as assumptions, about knowledge and research. Our responses to these also impact on whether they deepen and stick, or merge and shift. On the one hand some institutions like the Research Exercise Framework (REF) wilfully or otherwise cement disciplinary boundaries. On the other hand, subjects like cognitive science or cultural studies challenge and sometimes shatter the working reality of disciplinary borders. To examine these issues the paper will focus on philosophy as it engages with interdisciplinary work, particularly with science and technology (STEM). This dialogue sometimes challenges, sometimes strengthens disciplinary borders, and can be uncertain in structure (how to talk) and in the expectations of outcomes. For instance, what is gained and by whom—who is learning, who instructs? Some are sceptical about the value of including philosophers in such debate; some worry about the impact on innovation, while others believe that someone cannot talk meaningfully about a subject in which they have not been trained. Yet the transgression of borders in these respects can have real ethical and societal implications and so this paper seeks to defend of interdisciplinary work.

2.     Jonas Holst (San Jorge University)

Meeting at the Threshold of Destruction

Two warriors, Diomedes and Glaucus, meet head on in a legendary encounter in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, but instead of fighting each other, they start talking to each other, although not without launching a threat first. Diomedes tells Glaucus: ‘If you are a mortal man […] you will quickly reach your threshold of doom’ (Il. 6, 142‐43). Ancient literature is full of examples of people exchanging words on the brink of death and destruction. In his memorable book The Invention of Solitude Paul Auster reflects on the role of Shehrzad in A Thousand and One Nights, in which she night after night delays her own execution, facing the king, who has commanded that all women of the country be executed. By telling stories, which involve the king and his desire to kill, Shehrzad succeeds in turning the king ‘away from thoughts of death, and in so doing delight him […] into a new feeling for life’ (Auster 1989: 151). In answering Diomedes, Glaucus employs a similar narrative strategy, which happens to involve Diomedes directly, as the warriors’ grandparents prove to have been guest friends, and they end up, against a backdrop of that friendship, crossing borders by inviting each other into their homes. In contradistinction to Shehrzad, who entices the king through monologues, the two Homeric warriors establish a dialogue which leads into a friendship, in which the threshold of destruction is transformed into a threshold of hospitality. With these two examples of meeting at the threshold, facing danger and destruction, the paper will elaborate on an understanding of dialogue which is based on being involved in a movement of crossing borders and receiving the other in hospitality.

3. Hannah Marije Altorf

Creating a Common World Through Dialogue: Reflections on Arendt and Nelson

This paper offers a reflection on how Socratic dialogue can create and strengthen the sense of a shared common world and of overcoming borders. It does so by introducing the Nelson-Heckmann tradition of Socratic Dialogue in an Arendtian framework, thus showing that such dialogue can be understood as a worldly common practice. The focus will be in particular on Hannah Arendt’s use of common sense or sensus communis. Starting-point for this paper is Arendt’s seminal article ‘ Philosophy and Politics’, where Arendt argues that ‘the death of Socrates made Plato despair of polis life and, at the same time, doubt certain fundamentals of Socrates’ teaching. (427) After the death of Socrates Plato turned away from the city. Philosophy became an activity pursued in solitude and even outside space and time. Against this image Arendt presents the figure of Socrates. Socrates, walking the streets of Athens, concerned himself with the actual opinions other people held rather than any absolute eternal truth. Socrates, Arendt argues, wanted ‘not to tell philosophical truths, but to make citizens more truthful.’ (434) These conversations between friends create a sense of commonness, of a community, whose members are ‘equal partners in a common world’ – though they are never the same. (‘Philosophy and Politics’, 436) Socratic dialogue in the Nelson-Heckmann tradition I consider an example of such conversations. In the paper, I present the method with reference to Arendt’s notion of common sense (sensus communis).

Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 1.00 – 2.30 p.m.

Rm 202, 4 University Gardens

1.     Laura Candiotto (University of Edinburgh, laura.candiotto@ed.ac.uk)

Socratic Dialogue at the Border: Emotions for Building Trust in Humanity

By emphasizing the role played by emotions in the Socratic dialogue, this article aims at proposing, and theoretically justifying, a practice of ‘Socratic dialogue at the border’ coming from Minna Specht’s model. Minna Specht was one of the Leonard Nelson’s collaborator, founder of the German method of Socratic Dialogue. She developed schools (the Walkemühle, and then the Odenwald), first in Germany, and then in North Europe and in UK, where German and Hebrew children lived together during the Nazi period. Moreover Minna Specht, after the fall of Nazism, designed an educational model for those children that had experienced the horrors of the Second World War. Critical thinking, dilemmatic attitude, moral deliberation and decision-making are just some of the skills fostered by Socratic Dialogue. The central role recognized to emotions by Minna Specht – in particular love and vulnerability – and the specific style of life of her ‘schools of life’ were the keys to pursue an effective intercultural dialogue among the children, sharing the border. Encouraging a shared responsibility for human care and building the trust in humanity, this specific kind of Socratic Dialogue were and can be nowadays understood as a key practice for reaching a real intercultural dialogue. ‘Socratic dialogue at the border’ can thus be grasped as a practice that, by emphasizing the value of emotions for knowledge, aims at the person’s emotional participation in the collective process of research, within an ethical horizon of transformation involving both the self and the context the individual belongs to. In this perspective, emotions are not to be intended as merely private phenomena, but as elements that are constitutive of the political valence of the ethics of care and of the dialogue as a world-transformative action.

2.     John Hammersley (hammersley24@yahoo.co.uk)

Transcending Difference: Moving Between Spoken and Written Modes of Dialogue in Art Practice as Research

Dialogue’s emphasis on conversational, interpersonal, socially grounded and collective modes of meaning-making transgresses traditional constructions of artistic identity, challenges art’s habitual sense of exterior or distanciated relation to the world and undermines naturalised claims to authority connected with historically established forms of practice. For example, traditionally art promotes the identity of the artist as an author of meaning characterised by difference, participating in distanciated modes of exchange and invested in provoking critical insights and changed understanding through conflict and antagonism. In contrast Dialogical art presents the artist as a co-participant in a collective process of meaning-making characterised by interpersonal communicative exchange, openness, and the possibility of consensus or new understanding. In particular, dialogical art has reactivated historical disputes about whether conversational interaction or detached spectatorship is a more ideal mode of generating critical encounter and new understanding in art. What this argument overlooks, however, is the potential for dialogue to bridge the divide between artist and others and transcend efforts to essentialise the difference between speaking and writing in the performance of dialogue. Such an expanded notion of dialogue as art would offer practice and education new possibilities, yet require specific examples of how such dialogue can operate across different locations, establish new blurred relationships of meaning-making, and share potential new insights (Hooks, 1994). This paper describes how the artist John Hammersley combines a tripartite Platonic structure of meaning-making with social constructionist grounded theory to construct a mode of dialogue as art which blurs the separation between art and the social world, offsets efforts to essentialise the differences between conversational dialogue and processes of inscriptive meaning-making, and offers new possibilities for artists’ sense of self and their relationship to the world.

3.     Sarah Scott (Manhattan College, sarah.scott@manhattan.edu)

The Preconditions for and Limitations of Dialogue: Martin Buber on Torture, Lovemaking and Mental Illness

Martin Buber is well known for his distinction between I-Thou or dialogic modes of existence and I-It or monologic modes of existence. What are less well studied are the preconditions for and limitations of dialogue that he laid out. Buber maintains that the grasp of the reality of the other and her experiences, which he calls Realphantasie (imagining the real), is a precondition for dialogue. But when is the embrace of the other Realphantasie and not mere Phantasie? How do we know that we are really meeting the other and what can hinder this exercise of our imagination? In this paper I look at three provocative examples offered by Buber of Realphantasie and dialogue operating at our physical, moral and political borders: torture, lovemaking, and relationships with persons with severe mental illnesses. These examples open up a range of issues concerning the preconditions for and limitations of dialogue, including the interplay between memory and imagination that is necessary for dialogue; the line between care and violence, and the way each can slip into the other, just as dialogue and monologue slip into each other; and the role of contradiction and tragedy in Buber’s understanding of human relationships.


Ecotheologies: Culture, Nature and Religion

Alexandra Campbell (University of Glasgow, alexandra.campbell@ glasgow.ac.uk)

and Anna Fisk (University of Glasgow, anna.fisk@glasgow.ac.uk)

This panel seeks contributions which address concerns regarding the relationship between religious and spiritual worldviews and the environment. The burgeoning field of the ‘environmental humanities’ explores cultural expressions of the relation between the human and more-than-human world, including ethical and political questions of how one ‘may live in this world and do, if not harm, then the absolute minimum of harm’ (John Burnside, A Science of Belonging).

Suggested areas of discussion may include:

  • Creative and theological responses to environmental crises.
  • Nature-based spiritualities – both traditional/indigenous and modern western (e.g. contemporary Paganism, Dark Green Religion)
  • Earth-centred discourses that may be implicitly religious, such as Gaia theory and deep ecology.
  • Nature as a source of nourishment, restoration and wellbeing.
  • Discourses of environmental dystopia and apocalypse.
  • Ecological compassion, guardianship, ethics and care.
  • Ecocritical discussions of dwelling and enchantment
  • Theological implications of the recent ‘material turn’ in critical theory (such as ‘new animism’, posthumanism and ‘new materialism’)


Session One

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

1. Anna Fisk (University of Glasgow, anna.fisk@glasgow.ac.uk)

Crafting Ecotheologies: Introduction to the Panel and Autoethnographic Reflections on Knitting and Nature

In the face of environmental crisis it is vitally important to create new visions of the human relationship with the natural world. Religion is a crucial source for this project, whether that involves a reimagining of ancient traditions or engaging in new, nature-focused religious movements. In this new ISRLC panel we will be exploring three main elements of religion: firstly, tenets of belief, or doctrine; secondly, the religious imaginary, or the symbols, stories and myths (including origin myths and eschatology); thirdly, rituals and daily practice. This paper will focus on the third, on ecotheology in lived religion in everyday rituals. Practices such as organic gardening, the slow food movement, and upcycling are examples of deliberately countercultural ways that some attempt to resist the dominant modes of modern life that have led to the prospect of irreversible environmental catastrophe. More than simply a futile attempt to ‘do one’s bit for the environment’, practices such as these may be part of a process of re-enchantment: lengthy activities that can involve mindfulness about the material world; daily attentiveness; a repositioning of one’s relation to the natural world of plants and animals; location in place, and a certain connection to the past and thinking of the future. In this paper I use autoethnographic reflections on my own fibre craft practice as a case study. My ecotheological craft practice is not an uncritically nostalgic celebration of a bygone age, nor a doom-mongering preparation for a post- apocalyptic, post-industrial future. Rather, it is fundamentally about attentiveness to my present relation to this world of materials, a discipline requiring repetition and is never complete. It forms small acts of resistance to the instrumental approach to our world. As such, it has ecotheological importance alongside new ecologically-minded doctrines, direct activism, and mythmaking.

2.     Miryam Sivan (University of Haifa, msivan33@gmail.com)

 The Enchanted Tree: Tales from the World of Cynthia Ozick’s Fiction

Trees are centre-stage in a number of Cynthia Ozick’s fictions. Recurring and meaningful leitmotifs, not mere props in a natural or contrived landscape, they are described as seers, as companions, as hallowed vessels. Sometimes the trees are metaphors for innocence or knowledge. Sometimes they are referred to as hospitable hosts. But what is most compelling is that trees themselves are conceived as descriptive metonyms for the all too human characters that appear with them inside these story frames. A common and unfortunate interpretation of their presence in her work is as markers of the fault line between polytheistic paganism and Judaic monotheism. Yet her stories reveal a complex relationship to nature in which it is possible to blend both pagan and Judaic elements of worship and appreciation. In her story, ‘The Pagan Rabbi’, when Isaac Korneld attempts to break free from this artificial divide between nature and Judaism, he becomes a casualty, not of paganism, but of despair. In Trust, both mother and daughter view trees as portentous vehicles of illumination. Ruth Puttermesser uses the exegetical paradigm of trees, the Pardes, or citrus grove in Hebrew, to come to grips with the totality of her life—her hopes, losses, dreads—and to attempt a synthesis of unremitting existential conundrums that accost her, even in Paradise. And there are many more examples. Reading trees simply as ‘foreign’ signifiers in Ozick’s oeuvre eclipses compelling aspects of Jewish belief and thought which are, if read carefully, in full evidence in the texts as well. For too long the Jewish world has been out of touch with its ecological roots, literally and literarily. Ozick’s work demonstrates the effects of this double exile. It also reflects the opposite: an authentic Jewish appreciation and belief in trees’ and nature’s centrality to human belief and life.

3.     Elizabeth Anderson (University of Stirling, sarahelizabeth.anderson@stir.ac.uk)

Sacred Landscape, Sacred Things: the Grail in the Writing of Mary Butts

In this paper I take the Grail as a route to exploring spirituality, the landscape and the relationships between persons and things in the writing of the English modernist Mary Butts. Butts’s biographer, Nathalie Blondel, argues that her engagement with landscape is primarily classical as she sees the land around her as suffused with the spirit of Greek deities. However, Butts was also fascinated by the Grail. It is a continual presence in her fiction, her journals and her autobiography. For Butts the Grail was both a thing and an idea. I begin my exploration of the Grail in Butts’s work with her 1928 novel, Armed with Madness, which features a modernist version of the grail quest. Various characters attempt to use the newly discovered Grail to manipulate others or to resolve interpersonal disputes, yet the material object remains irreducibly other, eluding the characters’ control, and this radical alterity becomes an instantiation of the sacred. Following my discussion of Armed with Madness, I turn to the more abstract representations of the Grail in her later life writing, where it enables syncreticism between paganism and Anglo-Catholicism, rooted in the sacred landscape (here Butts writes both of her memories of Edwardian Dorset and her current home on the Cornish coast). Following Jessie Weston, Butts felt the Grail formed the meeting point between paganism and Christianity. Like many writers of her era she was significantly influenced by the work of anthropologists of religion Jane Harrison, Jessie Weston, and James Frazer, as well as the legacy of Romanticism’s interest in paganism. This paper explores early 20th century engagements with paganism while also considering the relevance of such writing on the sacred landscape to current ecotheology.

Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 1.00 – 2.30 p.m.

1.     Roundable Discussion

Emma Mason (University of Warwick, emma.mason@warwick.ac.uk)

Rhian Williams (University of Glasgow, rhian.williams@glasgow.ac.uk)

David Borthwick (University of Glasgow, david.borthwick@glasgow.ac.uk)

Theopoetics as Ecopoetics? Thinking the Earth through Poetic Affect

This roundtable discussion seeks to find productive answers to the question, ‘how might theopoetics and ecopoetics be brought together?’ We offer it in part as a contribution to Alex Loftus’ demand that we ‘reformulate environmental politics on the terrain of the quotidian’ (Everyday Environmentalism, 2012) in order to counter the damagingly alienating effect of the dominance of apocalyptic narratives in accounts of climate change. Our desire to link theology with ecology at the level of poetics emblematizes our wish to explore the significance of a changed aesthetic – how we know sensually and through affect in poetry rather than narrative – as an epistemological route to apprehending the earth in disarray, and to adumbrating an ethical response to that. Drawing on theopoetics’ aim of recognizing embodied everyday experience as an articulation of the divine, on its reading of incarnation, and on its principles of variation and plurality, we seek generative ways of rethinking materialism in the conditions of climate change. We suggest that ecopoetics can learn from theology’s apprehension of materiality as being in a continual mode of reconstitution through sacrament and prayer. This iterative, daily act of attention, we suggest, articulates with poetics as a mode of meditation and mediation (that verb carrying the weight of Christ’s intercession) that might intervene in the way we value the earth by modeling active participation in our making of the world, emphasizing responsibility and affective thoughtfulness. Discussion will draw on each of the participants’ published and forthcoming work on poetics as an active force in our apprehension of the world, together with modeling a group ‘close reading’ of poetry by Peter Larkin, Kathleen Raine, and John Burnside.

2.     Roundtable Discussion:

Luke Devlin (Heriot Watt University, mail@lukedevl.in)

Mary Kristen Layne (University of Glasgow, m.layne.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

Christina Parry (Diocese of Rochester, clparry00@yahoo.co.uk)

Ecotheological Practice

The panellists will give short papers exploring issues of the practice of ecotheology in three cultural and geo-political locations, before discussing together the lines of difference and commonality between them. Luke Devlin’s paper ‘Incarnating the Edible Deity: Ecotheology, Place and Community in Scottish Food Justice Movements’ shares findings from participatory action research conducted with 15 faith communities across Scotland. The research is part of a community development initiative identified ways in which food justice projects, as a generative theme, not only increase household food security, but can create liminal spaces where practices of liberation theology deepen community capability and conscientisation. Mary Kristen Layne’s paper, ‘Stewardship, Identity, and Place: Developing an Ecological Ethic in the Bible Belt’ considers how the church in the Bible Belt of the southeast United States may be a potential site for encouraging the development of an ecological ethic that has the potential to infiltrate the popular political allegiances and responses to climate change. Christina Parry’s paper ‘African Experience: Theology, Ecology and Globalisation at Subsistence Level’ discusses how the training of Anglican priests at St Philip’s Theological College in Tanzania contends with issues of global climate change and environmental conservation in the context of economic realities.

Session Three

Sunday 11th September, 9.00 – 10.30 p.m.

1. Jea Sophia Oh (West Chester University of Pennsylvania, joh@wcupa.edu)

Seeds and the Cross: A Paradox of Life from Death: A Postcolonial Eco-Christology

In order to live, one must die: a paradox of life from death which is the principle of life. Jesus compared his death of the cross to a seed that falls to the ground and dies. The secret of life is in its hybrid process of disintegration and proliferation as numerous grains come after a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies. Nonetheless, if it remains only a single seed, it eventually loses its life. This process of life out of death can be found in all living organisms. Death is not opposite to life but an inevitable process of life that is not even avoidable to Jesus at the Cross. Caputo calls crucifixion ‘the weakness of God’, with the genuine divinity of Jesus is revealed in his helplessness, his cry of abandonment, and in the words of forgiveness he utters. Paradoxically, Caputo sees the weakness and helplessness as the power that reveals Jesus’ divinity. The weak force of God is indeed the power of life that cannot be knocked out by the colonial sovereign power. This intertwined power of weakness and the process of life from death are given to all the living organisms including Jesus as truly human. The secret of life in a seed is now genetically modified by human colonization over nature. The colonial superpower of GMOs has created superseeds and superweeds that eventually destroy our ecosystem and biodiversity by extorting fecundity from seeds. However, power also comes from the bottom of the structure which has been considered as the weak. Understanding the Foucaultian ‘heterogeneity of power as sovereign power and biopower’, this study suggests biopower as an alternative power, ‘the power of vulnerability,’ which we can learn from seeds and the Cross, that resists colonial power and brings forth the multiplicity of life.

2. Robin Hamon (University of Sheffield, rhamon1@sheffield.ac.uk)

 Lines in Eden: The Delineation of Garden and ‘Wilderness’ in Genesis 2:4b–3:24

This paper employs ecocritical methodology to examine the physical world of Genesis 2:4b–3:24, focusing upon the border that delineates the garden of Yhwh and the space that surrounds it. Christian theological tradition, Western cultural tradition and ecocritical analyses have largely understood the environment of Gen. 2:4b–3:24 as comprising two distinct and contrasting ecosystems; the bounteous paradise of the garden of Yhwh and the surrounding barren desert that becomes corrupted by sin. This interpretation of Gen. 2:4b–3:24 suggests that spatially there is a border that segregates garden and ‘wilderness’. Using an ecocritical reading method suggested by Glotfelty, I will argue in opposition to traditional interpretations of the text that the border delineating the garden of Yhwh is fluid and that there are similarities between the ecosystems of the garden and the surrounding land. Studies engaging with the historicity of Gen. 2:4b–3:24 have compared the garden of Yhwh to the royal garden of ancient Western Asian tradition. These studies have argued that the garden of Yhwh is a walled garden due to linguistic reasons and/or motifs within the text that evoke a connection with the Old Iranian concept of the royal walled garden. I will propose that the garden of Yhwh is not enclosed by a wall but that instead its boundary is marked by a dense vegetal border that allows flora and fauna to move between the garden and the surrounding space. And furthermore, that the space around the garden promises arable fecundity, comprising rich soil that is irrigated by four rivers. Ultimately I will demonstrate that ecocritical methodology allows us understand the garden of Yhwh, the land that surrounds it, and the border that separates the two ecosystems in a manner that contrasts to traditional theological and cultural understandings of Gen. 2:4b–3:24.

3. Alina Mitek-Dziemba (University of Silesia, alina.mitekdziemba@interia.pl)

Animal Theology Between Orthodox Metaphysics and Animism

This paper identifies and analyses points of possible convergence between, on the one hand, Western theological discourse in its attempts to tackle contemporary culture fraught with imminent ecological crisis affecting both human and nonhuman lives, and, on the other hand, different types of research focusing on human-animal relationship that are nowadays subsumed under the heading animal studies. The rise of animal ethics has critically engaged the long unquestioned (though theologically justified) position of animals as mere objects in traditional religious practice, and recent redefinitions of Christian theology as it is entering the stage of post-secular reawakening of consciousness, prompting it to bid farewell to its outdated anthropocentric metaphysics. Christian theologians have striven hard to respond to the challenge of the environmental and animal rights movements, facing the latter’s accusations of speciesism and cultural arrogance. The last decade of the twentieth century saw the emergence of animal theology, bent on reconciling the claims of Christian theocentricism and animal ethics. In the new millennium, what seems to arise is a need for further radicalization: the rise of earth- and animal-friendly spirituality, disenchanted with the hegemonic narrative of secularization yet distrustful of institutionalized religious discourse, appears to be accompanied by the first manifestations of post-secular theology, divested of strong metaphysics, asserting its anti-dualism and celebrating the dissolution of once distant divine transcendence in the beings of the world, both human and nonhuman. This post-secular animal theology, unpalatable to most guardians of traditional Christian doctrine, can be best elicited from post-metaphysical philosophy, as well as literary texts. One example is the late poetry of David Herbert Lawrence in combining environmental awareness and theological insight, to both rectify and radicalize Christian teaching in its attitude to ‘creatures,’ and to exhibit a uniquely modern stance fusing natural and religious piety in a revived form of animism.



Pamela Sue Anderson (University of Oxford, pamela.anderson@regents.ox.ac.uk)

and Alison Jasper (University of Stirling, a.e.jasper@stirling.ac.uk)


This panel concerns how the lines in sand theme relates to the subject of gender, sexuality and feminism in terms of religion and culture.  Topics may include, for example:

  • gender and religion in the creative arts
  • sexuality and gender as borderline positions
  • creative and theological responses to the gendered impact of conflict and climate change
  • feminist and queer readings in literature and theology
  • intersectional feminisms in terms of borders and conflicts
  • lines of transition in the feminist ‘waves’
  • gendered interpretations of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11)
  • ‘desert mothers’ – desert spirituality and gender

Session One

Saturday 10th September, 1.00 – 2.30 p.m.

1.     Deborah Casewell (Hornsey Parish Church, dcasewell@gmail.com)

The Radical Otherness of Desert Mother Spirituality: Reading Simone Weil as a Desert Mother

Simone Weil challenged gender roles and societal expectations of women, in her work as a philosopher and her turn from secular French philosophy to mystical theology. This paper explores Weil’s life and work from the perspective of the desert mothers, arguing that with her rejection of gender roles and society and through her ascetic practice, she was re-living and re-interpreting the journey of the desert mothers, Thus, her thought can be characterised as desert mother spirituality. It will argue that female desert spirituality involves both a rejection of and a limitation by gender. Whilst desert mothers were well-educated (Syncletica), previously well placed in society (Melania the Elder), and not in any financial need; in order to abandon this life and create a desert spirituality some passed as men for years (Theodora), or spoke of how their thoughts transcended their female identity. Thus, the life and thought of these women can be characterised as being outsiders, both of society through their desires and the desert monastic society through their gender, and due to this rejection of society and creation of their own way of life, female desert spirituality is an example of radical otherness: where unable to cross borders and boundaries, they create their own space as a challenge. Weil’s radical life and stances will be seen as an echo of the lives and work of the desert mothers. Weil’s life and character follow the pattern, from her education and social position, and also how in pursuing her goals she disassociated herself from her gender, adopting a masculine appearance and wearing men’s clothes. I will argue that her life as mystic and ascetic, and her rejection of baptism, shows that she is the modern example of and heir to desert mother spirituality, underscoring her otherness and position as an outsider.

2.     Jim Harold (The Glasgow School of Art, harold.brind@virgin.net)

‘…the very breathing of the [desert] earth…’: Isabelle Eberhardt’s Journeys between North African Desert Zaouîyas

The subject of this paper, Isabelle Wilhelmina Marie Eberhardt, was born in Geneva in 1877. She died in 1904, aged twenty-seven, at the French-colonial military outpost of Ain Sefra in Southern Algeria. Given her relatively brief life, and the short seven years period of her travels, she managed to traverse thousands of miles across Algeria’s semi-desert (Sahel) and desert lands. Her journeys took the form of a quest for what she perceived to be the source of ‘Old Islam’, whose heart was nourished by the spiritual solitude found only in remote desert regions. It has been argued by some of her critics that she was negatively driven by a restlessness founded upon hedonistic bouts of activity and the melancholy declines that followed, which together revealed aspects of her European/Slavic romanticism and Orientalism. These inclinations, when aligned with her adopted ideal of the vagrant and wanderer (effectively an outsider and critic of the dominant colonial European culture of the period) have also been viewed more positively by a number of biographers as the qualities that allowed Eberhardt to shape and write about the colonised world of North Africa as she did.

This paper seeks to re-evaluate Eberhardt’s relation (and her growing dedication) to both Islam and Sufism in the form of a sequential journey to three North African zaouîyas (the liturgical and social home of a Sufi brotherhood), her meetings with the Shaykhs, Sidi el Hussein ben Brahim (Qâdiriyya order) in El Oued and Sidi Brahim Ould Mohamed (Zianya order) in Kenadsa, and the Shaykha Lella Zaynab (Rahmaniyya order) in El Hamel. It will also discuss the influence of both Islamic and Sufic thought that lie, contrary to some critics views, embodied within her world-view and writings.

3.     Joe Lenow (University of Virginia, jel5y@virginia.edu)

Leaving Eden: Destructive Plasticity and Exceeding Gender in Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden

In the popular imagination (and his own), Ernest Hemingway is the icon of modern machismo. Before the posthumous publication of The Garden of Eden, few would have predicted that his final novel would be a psychosexual tale of gender fluidity, polyamory, and childhood trauma, all unfolding on the sandy beaches of Provence. While the book begins with an unnamed pair of newlyweds in a hazily idyllic setting, it is fundamentally a story of personal re-creation, interested less in a nostalgic return to an idealized past than in Eden as a sign of what must be left behind if we wish to begin our lives anew. Questions of identity figure prominently in the narrative arcs of both the novel’s central characters: David Bourne’s story is concerned above all with the possibilities for reshaping one’s identity presented by fiction-writing, while his wife Catherine engages in a much more radical project of transgressing gender and sexual norms in search of an identity beyond the limitations of male and female. Catherine begins with a mental transition to a male identity in sexual play with her husband, and progresses through taking and sharing a female lover with him to the final collapse of their marriage and her wholesale reinvention without any stable gender identity. In this paper, I focus especially on Catherine’s narrative, taking her story as an illuminating example of what Catherine Malabou has recently called ‘destructive plasticity’. Amending the more sanguine theological account of plasticity given by Kathryn Tanner, I argue that breaking the strictures of patriarchy and gender domination is accompanied by a painful process of revaluing one’s past and recuperating one’s identity, rather than a straightforward trajectory of gradual growth and organic change.

4. Brandi Estey-Burtt (Dalhousie University, brandi.esteyburtt@dal.ca)

Re-Visioning Redemption in Marilynne Robinson’s Lila

Near the beginning of Marilynne Robinson’s 2014 novel Lila, the drifter Doll steals the young child Lila and bathes the filthy, cursing girl in a strange baptismal ritual that ushers Lila into the unconventional life of a wanderer. The moment highlights the novel’s concern with resurrection and redemption, even as it foregrounds the importance of female relationships. I argue that the novel questions what redemption means for a woman who has experienced poverty and prostitution, shame and weariness. Is she simply ‘saved’ from fallenness and loneliness by her husband, Revered Ames? Scholars like Rebecca Painter have noted Robinson’s persistent attention to Christianity and grace and some (such as Siân Mile and Paula Geyh) have looked at female subjectivity in her earlier novels. However, no one has explored how Robinson complicates Christian imagery of redemption or the figure of the Messiah, and little critical work has yet appeared on Lila. Drawing on Catherine Keller’s work on becoming and eschatology as well as John Caputo’s idea of weak messianism, I argue that Lila contests images of redemption in the form of the masculine saviour. Instead of the Reverend Ames “saving” Lila, I suggest that the novel offers a vision of redemption rooted in weakness and uncertainty, rather than power and fixed ideas of faith. Feminist theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and Carol Christ have discussed this theme in terms of eschatology, but not necessarily as a re-articulation of the Messiah. Lila does not figure redemption in a single person or eschatological attitude but contemplates it as a process of reaching out to others and bearing finitude and life’s anxieties. In other words, the novel thinks of redemption as a process in which we are all engaged instead of a line to be crossed.

Session Two

Sunday 11th September, 9.00 – 10.30 p.m.

1.     Daisy Lafarge (University of Glasgow, daisy.grove.lafarge@hotmail.com)

Viriditas and Difference

Growing from its roots in feminist theory, the concept of sexual difference is being ‘pushed to an extreme’, undergoing an ecological expansion to consider the ‘nonhuman’ other. As Myra Hird argues, ‘new materialism challenges the very purview of feminist theory beyond ‘women’ and sexual difference.’ This paper will argue that through the exploratory framework of ‘environmental imaginaries’ – that foreground materiality and an expanded notion of difference – we can consider the ‘ecological’ importance of Hildegard of Bingen and Luce Irigaray whose respective ‘internalised misogyny’ and ‘biological essentialism’ would otherwise hinder a feminist analysis that focuses exclusively on sexual difference. The comparison of Hildegard’s viriditas and Irigaray’s ‘elemental materialism’ will reveal overlaps in their environmental imaginaries, in which their essentialisms are undercut by non-sexed ‘elemental materialism’ that pre-exists sexual difference and allows for affirmative, productive reinterpretations for an ecologically-oriented ‘feminist intervention in art history’.

2.     Manju Jaidka (Panjab Universty, Chandigarh, jaidkamanju@gmail.com)

Inbetween Lives: Representations of Hijras in Literature

It is generally accepted that gender is a social construct—‘One is not born a woman; one becomes one’—if we go by what Simone de Beauvoir once famously said. Stretching the idea somewhat, I would venture to say that one is not born a Hijra, one becomes one. The thrust of my paper is on Hijra (or transgender/trans-sexual) lives on the Indian subcontinent and my premise is that members of the Hijra, or transgender, community are forced to play a role foisted on them by age-old social traditions. I propose to illustrate this point with the help of selected texts that deal with this community. The Hijra community of India comprises transgenders or eunuchs who are grudgingly accepted as a subculture existing on the margins of society. Neither men nor women, they occupy an ambiguous place in the social fabric; there are superstitions associated with them; they are stereotyped, mocked at, made the butt end of vulgar jokes, and generally treated as objects of derision. I focus on their representation in two main texts: Mahesh Dattani’s play Seven Steps Around the Fire and Deepa Mehta’s film Water which was subsequently published in the form of a novel. My paper would focus on the manner in which Hijras have been portrayed in these texts. Referring to ancient texts in this connection, it is evident that this community had a certain role to perform in society. Contemporary literary representations of Hijras follow the same tradition and we note that in the texts selected for study this community is unable to step out of its socially defined roles. Such is the stranglehold of rigid social customs and taboos.

3.     Dawn Llewellyn (University of Chester, d.llewellyn@chester.ac.uk)

Troubling the Waves: Feminist Generations and Disciplinary Disconnections in Third and Fourth Wave Feminism

It is almost impossible to speak of feminist history without ‘talking in waves,’ such is the pervasiveness of this watery metaphor for depicting the women’s movement; from wave zero, through to the first, second, third, and now fourth phases of feminism this is a much loved and familiar trope. However, in this paper I draw attention to two troubling sets of meanings underscoring the wave, which result in rigid distinctions between feminist cohorts, and feminist theory and feminist theology. For instance, the third ‘wave’ is often accompanied by generational connotations as each it is claimed and becomes attached to a ‘younger’ group of feminists. This is a linear pattern which forms artificial divisions between different feminist ages. Second, there is a sacred/secular binary in operation (Magee, 1995) that has coded the wave metaphor as a secular narrative, which has led to a disciplinary disconnection between feminist studies and religious feminism (Llewellyn and Trzebiatowska, 2013). This mutually unconstructive separation is evident in the third wave’s neglect of women’s religiosity and spirituality, and feminist theology’s reservedness in engaging with wider development in gender theory. As the fourth wave has recently surfaced, characterised by online campaigning, an awareness of intersectionality, and privilege checking  (Cochrane, 2014; Llewellyn 2015), it is important to keep ‘troubling the waves’. This means maintaining critical reflection on the use of the wave metaphor in its fourth phase (Garrison, 2007; Nicholson, 2010) to avoid repeating disconnections, and to uncover the messiness of feminism that the wave metaphor tends to defuse, particularly its presentation of generations and religion.

4.     Sarah Lightman (University of Glasgow, s.lightman.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

Motherhood – Bobby, Mary and Sarahs

In this talk I explore the visualisation of contemporary motherhood through the re-appropriation of religious iconography and text. I begin with a selection of Bobby Baker’s diary drawings. Bobby Baker is a performer and artist. In 1996 she was diagnosed with borderline personality and throughout her illness and recovery Baker made diary drawings, a select number of which were published in Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me (Profile Books 2010). In a series of two interviews with Baker at her home in 2009 and 2013, the artist showed me some unexhibited and unpublished diary drawings. Within these artworks Baker portrays the tensions she experienced between the responsibilities of motherhood and her professional aspirations. Baker’s presentation of her crisis as a working mother simultaneously decries an unsupportive society and the limited representation of the complexity of motherhood within Christian iconography. I argue that Baker performs a feminist reparative act in these diary drawings as she creates a new visual language of motherhood through her re-appropriation of biblical iconography. I will show how Baker’s self-self-portraits and icuntography accommodate her contemporary experiences. Then, through excerpts from my forthcoming graphic novel The Book of Sarah (Myriad Editions 2017), I will present how my own artwork records my struggles as a mother, artist, curator and writer.  My graphic novel developed from the lack of female voice within Old Testament texts, and the silence of my biblical namesake, Sarah. My drawings and animation films act as Medrash, a term I created to describe my extended use of midrash. Midrash is a method of interpreting biblical stories that supplement gaps within the original texts. Medrash are autobiographically based additional artwork and texts, about silenced experiences, in this case of birth, pregnancy and motherhood.


Iona Community Ritual

Sunday 11th September, 10.45 -11.30 a.m.

University of Glasgow Chapel

The Wild Goose Resource Group of Scotland’s Iona Community and friends from their Glasgow-based Holy City collaborative will present a liturgy focused on the history of wall-building and the struggles for land and identity in Israel and Palestine over three millennia. The liturgy involves the building of a symbolic wall in the Glasgow University chapel, representing the many divisions between peoples, religions, and cultures in Israel-Palestine, but also pointing to the hope for justice, peace, and inclusion in those troubled lands, as well as our own. To learn more about the Resource Group and its activities, visit http://www.wildgoose.scot. There will be an opportunity to donate to the work of the Iona Community at the end of the session.


Israel & Palestine: Community, Text, and Conflict

Co-Sponsored by Biblical Studies and Religious and Inter-Religious Studies

Mette Bundvad (University of Copenhagen, mbu@teol.ku.dk)

and Alana M. Vincent (University of Chester, alana.vincent@gmail.com)

This co-sponsored session explores questions of boundary keeping and the use of sacred text in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Sunday 11th September, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.

1.     Jo Carruthers (Lancaster University, j.carruthers@lancaster.ac.uk)

Enemy Lines: Boundary, Sovereignty and Exclusion at the Festival of Purim.

Purim is the festival through which the Jewish community celebrates the events of the biblical story of Esther. The most popular of Jewish festivals, Purim is a time of gift giving, pranks and dressing up, in which normal laws of behaviour are overturned in celebration of the reversal of the Jewish community’s fate from sorrow to joy. The lawlessness celebrated at Purim is commonly interpreted through the lens of the carnivalesque and questions of subversion against or submission to a threatening host community. By contrast, this paper will situate lawlessness in relation to theories of sovereignty. The writings of Carl Schmitt and Georgio Agamben raise questions about the status of the law, inclusion and exclusion, the friend-enemy distinction and the production of a community boundary that are pertinent to the festival activities. The megillah (Esther scroll) is read in full at the Purim synagogue service and a common tradition is to make noise to blot out the name of Haman from hearing. This ‘smiting of Haman’, with its symbolic eradication of the enemy invokes two key themes from the Esther story – the threat of violence towards Jews from the host community and the celebration of triumph over an enemy. This paper argues that through the smiting of Haman, Purim produces a form of diasporic sovereignty in which violence and exclusion become integral to the act of boundary making.

2.     Karen Wenell (University of Birmingham, k.j.wenell@bham.ac.uk)

Biblical Spatial Resources and Defining Group Boundaries in Israel/Palestine

This paper takes as its starting point Judith Butler’s recent discussions of Jewish support for Israel and the potential for critique of Zionism from within Judaism itself. Though her focus is on the applicability of a principle of plural cohabitation (drawing on Arendt) and not on religious resources or the Bible as such, her work nonetheless highlights the availability of different resources within one tradition to set out group boundaries by appealing to spatial ideals such land, exile and diaspora. This raises questions about how religions are defined in the public sphere, and also potential ways they might ascribe to universal principles of rights and co-habitation whilst at the same time retaining differentiation within a plural situation. The questions Butler asks about what it means to be Jewish in the public sphere can also be put to Christianity and the (biblical) spatial resources utilised in the public articulation of group boundaries. In the context of Israel/Palestine, Christians draw on biblical resources both to support and critique Israel. If Butler finds hope in some of the notions of diaspora that value the relationship of the Jew to the non-Jew as essential to group definition, are there the comparable resources in Christianity that might allow for defining of boundaries in a way which recognises human rights and the right to place, yet does not appeal to a supersessionist understanding of Judaism for self-definition? Possible responses to this question will be considered as part of the potential gains of reception history, envisioned as a task that (in Butler’s words) ‘does not seek to recover an original meaning, or to return to a lost past, but rather to grasp and work with the fragments of the past that break through into a present where they become provisionally available’ (2011, 82).

3.     Brian Britt (Virginia Tech, bbritt@vt.edu)

Frames and Borders in Deuteronomy and Films on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

This essay connects the political problem of borders in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the category of frames and framing in Deuteronomy and political theory. Two films–Five Broken Cameras, a Palestinian villager’s account of an ongoing protest against the building of a separation wall, and The Law in These Parts, a series of interviews with judges who established and ruled on the law of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (both 2011)–present contested political borders through films that break the conventional frames of the documentary form. The Law in These Parts and Five Broken Cameras are not explicitly biblical films, but on a formal level, their play with conventional frames can be compared to Robert Polzin’s studies of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. Both Bible and the films deploy frames and ‘frame-breaks’ to address territorial claims, narrate human migration, and deploy political ideology. Polzin’s work on biblical narrative shows how ancient texts share some of the qualities by Judith Butler (Frames of War) and others typically associate with contemporary and modern works. I will argue that these formal frames and frame-breaks challenge viewers to see the political frames identified by Butler, and that in so doing they suggest ways to transcend frames and borders alike.




Marianne Schleicher (University of Aarhus, ms@cas.au.dk)

With reference to ‘desert spirituality’ as a conference theme, the Judaism panel wants to counter its Christian bias and its world-renouncing understanding of asceticism as well as point to the completely different connotations that ’desert’ has as literary imagery in Jewish religion, literature, and culture after two millennia of exile. Up against Jewish history, ‘desert’ signifies inter alia complex experiences in the past as well as visions of what the future should—or more likely, should not—look like. Accordingly, the Judaism panel calls for papers willing to reflect on

  • what the literary imagery of ‘desert’ may mean in a Jewish context?
  • how past ‘desert’ experiences have contributed to the uniqueness of Jewish religion, literature, and culture, its practices, theologies, and ethics?
  • why past ‘desert’ experiences have convinced some Jews to invest in diasporic Judaism in spite of the possibility since 1948 for Jews to live in a Jewish nation-state?
  • whether world-renouncing practices of asceticism have ever been or could be compatible with past, present or future versions of Jewish religion?

Session One

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

1.     Ariel Zinder (Tel Aviv University, arieldov@013net.net)

Hebrew Liturgical Poetry – Beyond the Borders of Decorum

Many religious cultures include the performance of poetic texts in the course of their standard liturgy. In Jewish tradition thousands of such poetic insertions, termed Piyyut, were composed in Hebrew letters and have been performed in synagogues from the early Middle Ages up until the present time. Scholarly descriptions often see Piyyut as a genre consisting of poetic ‘embellishments’ of the standard liturgy. But, do such poems and songs merely adorn the service, or do they also display a religious urge to cross the boundaries of the standard liturgy, giving voice to some of the subversive, deconstructive force of poetic language? In this paper, I examine this question while discussing one case study, the position of liturgical poetry in the liturgy of the most exalted of religious festivals in the Jewish religion, the Day of Atonement. The central thesis I propose is that within medieval Jewish religion, poetry was both a crucial addition to, and a textual residue of, the standard, official liturgy. I argue that these poems were relegated to a decorative supplement, yet it is precisely this supplemental position that enables Piyyut to stand as a constant challenge to mainstream liturgy, pushing practitioners of the liturgy towards the borders of religious experience. Following Derrida’s lead, one might call these poems the ‘supplement’ of the standard liturgy, the ‘dangerous supplement’, acting as an addition which seems extrinsic yet necessary, natural yet superficial. In contrast to the ethos of decorum and solemnity in standard Jewish liturgy, these poems continue to invoke traumas of the past, radical expectations for the future, and urgent, sorrowful entreaties to hear God’s voice once again. This transgressive nature of Piyyut presents it as something wholly other than mere ornament, and may help re-figure the tensions, dangers and blessings of liturgical poetry in religious communities.

2.     Uriah Kfir (Ben Gurion University, kfirur@bgu.ac.il)

‘Desert’ and ‘Anti-Desert’ Approaches in Medieval Hebrew Poetry from Muslim Spain

As is well established in research, the massive implementation of Arabic culture and poetics in Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain also included the adoption of desert motifs and images rooted in the ancient Arabic poetry of the Arabian deserts. Hebrew poets who had never ridden a camel or wandered in the desert wilderness often referred in their poems to desert landscapes and their animals, desert mirages and night skies, abandoned campsites left behind by wandering tribes, etc. By using these desert motifs and images, Hebrew poets in Muslim Spain imparted a strong Arabic flavor on their works. Less known, however, is the impact of ‘anti-desert’ voices in Arabic poetry on Hebrew writers. Muslims who lived in the most prosperous towns of the time such as Cordoba, Baghdad and their surroundings, and enjoyed the luxury of the famous medieval Muslim courts could not stop themselves from wondering what tied them to desert poetry. Should desert poetry be treated as an obligatory model? Why should the archaic values of Arabian deserts be preferred over the values of the here-and-now? In this paper I use this backdrop to take a new approach to Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain, and in particular works by the 11th century Solomon Ibn Gabirol. This approach sheds new light on Ibn Gabirol’s aesthetics and his ties to these new urban Arabic models. However, I argue that Ibn Gabirol did not merely imitate the Arabic anti-desert trend, but rather used it to make a strong statement about the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic poetries and cultures, which, according to him, was not only a medieval phenomenon but went back to ancient ‘desert times’.

3.     Jessica van-‘t-Westeinde (Durham University, j.i.o.van-‘t-westeinde@durham.ac.uk)

Rome as Desert: Megalopolis Typologies and Self-Understanding of Diaspora Jewish Groups in Rome after Bar Kokhba

The loss of the Temple, the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt, and subsequent imperial measures brought about existential changes to what until recently had been core to ‘mainstream’ Judaism. The impact of these atrocities on Jewish self-understanding could perhaps be understood in terms of ‘desert experience:’ punishment, desolation, deprivation. Building on the work of Daschke, and picking up from theories developed by the Lived Ancient Religion-group (Joerg Ruepke), urban religion (Rubina Raja), and CAARE (Armin Geertz, Esther Eidinow: cognitive approaches to ancient religion), I will explore how one could conceptualise the transitional period post-Bar Kokhba as a ‘desert experience.’ The shifting role of religion introduced the need to redefine Jewish self-understanding, and a search for ways to re-establish the relationship of Israel with their God. I will explore if the desert metaphor could be used to scrutinise this experience of Diaspora life in Rome. The megalopolis offered a hiding place, but also isolation, void, and anonymity not too different from the desert where any point of reference is lacking. Yet, with Ranen Omer-Sherman we should explore if the desert paradigm, applied to Rome, could also be understood as a possibility of liberation, and as such does not only bear a negative connotation. In other words, what were the benefits the megalopolis brought for the Jewish migrants in their quest for a renewed self-understanding? My approach will be mainly text-based, and I will look at how narratives seek to respond to the traumatic experiences, seek to help redefine identity, and give meaning: responses which seem to transpose the encounter with the divine to the mystical realm.

Session Two

Sunday 10th September, 10.45 a.m.– 12.15 p.m.

1. Victor J. Seidler

‘Embodying Desert Thinking and Hebraic Practices of Freedom’ (

The paper will reflect on the wilderness years of the Exodus and the time that it takes to undo the psychic and bodily harms of Egyptian slavery so that, at some level, as so often said it was easier to take the Jews out of Egypt than Egypt out of the Jews. I will also engage desert thinking not simply as a process of worldly renunciation and inner spiritual transformation but as a need to also practice freedom as an embodied practice of social and political transformation so offering hope for living differently in a more just world.

The world-renouncing connotation in desert spirituality has a certain Christian or at least ascetic bias that registers a particular line in the sand that can make it harder to reflect across the boundaries of diverse religious traditions. Jewish traditions can help us to imagine differently in more embodied ways whilst also reminding us of the need to engage with traumatic histories and cultural memories and the years that it can take to engage legacies of slavery, holocaust histories, and colonial oppression. Often these legacies are carried in gendered ways in bodies as well as minds and the emotional and spiritual work that needs to be done to remake lives involve creative embodied practices of freedom that are both personal and political.

2.     Chen Marx (Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel, chen.marx@mail.huji.ac.il)

‘The Void is Bound to be Filled’: The Desert in Shulamit Hareven’s ‘The Miracle Hater’

The Miracle Hater is the first novella in Shulamit Hareven’s Thirst: The Desert Trilogy. The novella is set during the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and subsequent wandering through the desert, and describes those events from the perspective of Eskhar, an orphan boy whose love is taken away, and who spends most of his days in the fringes of the Israelite camp, alone, herding sheep. In the novella, the desert serves multiple roles: on the national level it is the melting pot the new People is created in, and at the same time, on the personal level, it serves as a place where the individual character of Eshkar is forged. The way in which Hareven characterizes the desert’s effect on the national and individual identities is through lack (the desire to drink when no water sources are to be found; the desire for the love that had been taken away, the desire for theological answers in a chaotic existence). In addition, the desert symbolizes freedom and anarchy (as opposed to Egypt, that symbolizes order and enslavement); it symbolizes a space between hell and heaven, a limbo – between the slave-house and the redemption of the promised land. Moreover, in some parts of the novella the desert becomes an autonomous being, with its own needs and desires. In this paper I will examine the relation between Hareven’s work and the source which inspired it (the exodus story in the Hebrew Bible and in Rabbinic literature); the sophisticated way in which she represents the desert in her work, and the connections between Hareven’s work and the formation of the identity of contemporary Israel.

3.     Nicham Ross (Ben Gurion University, nicham@gmail.com)

The Israelites in the Sinai Desert: Counter History in Modern Hebrew Literature

This paper will focus on alternate and oppositional stories following the biblical events of the Israelites at the Sinai Desert. All examples are from Modern Hebrew literature, and their common theme is the tension between public conformity versus individualism. I will attempt to highlight their context, both in contemporary cultural and literary trends and as a clear manifesto of the secular and national revival (and revolt) of Hebrew Culture in 20th century Judaism. I will conclude with stating that as opposed to a typical genre of alternate history, here the aim is not necessarily to replace nor to deny the biblical account of events, but rather to insert modern and rebellious voices into the canonical epic of the Sinai Desert. The main works to be discussed are I.L. Peretz, Ha’ofot ve’Hagvilim; David Frischman, BaMidbar: Biblical Tales; Micha Yosef Berdyczewski, Mimekor Israel; and Shulamit Har-Even, Zimaon: The Desert Trilogy.




Jeff Keuss (Seattle Pacific University, keussj@spu.edu) and

Mark Knight (University of Lancaster, m.knight@lancaster.ac.uk)


The Literature panel features papers on literature and any topic inspired by the conference theme are invited, including:

  • Literary forms and genres
  • Hybridity, intertextuality, conversation, dialogism
  • The ways in which literary texts show the porosity of identity categories (sexuality, nationality, race, class, religion, etc.)
  • The role of borders in literary studies as a discipline (e.g. between different literary fields, and between literature and other disciplines)
  • Literary explorations of the space between religion and the secular.
  • Ecocriticism and/or the relationship between literature and environment
  • Creative-Criticism and the relationship between literary criticism and creative writing.
  • Literary responses to John 8:1-11.
  • The ethics of reading.


Session One: Religion, Secularism and the Postsecular

Friday 9th September, 1.30 – 3.00 p.m.

1. Katelynn Carver (University of St. Andrews, kc58@st-andrews.ac.uk)

Consider the Lilys: Reading Virginia Woolf as a Model for Interdisciplinary Post-Secular Spiritualities

Writings on Virginia Woolf and process theology as separate areas of research are vast and varied both within and outside of academia; work integrating these fields of study, however, is virtually nonexistent despite the myriad common themes between them. Therefore, I offer an interdisciplinary reading of Woolf by bringing together process theology, theopoetics, and the postmodern cultural sensibility to bear upon her novels, underscoring the cross-contextual primacy of interconnected experience within an interrelational universe. By critically engaging Woolf’s use of creativity (considered analogous to process-relational ultimacy) in the form of visual art in To The Lighthouse and literary art in The Waves, the texts themselves describe and actively cultivate such post-secular, process theological themes (as informed crucially by such modern process thinkers as Catherine Keller, Philip Clayton, Roland Faber, Jay McDaniel, Sallie McFague, Majorie Hewitt Suchocki, and Arthur Peacocke, et al) as relationality, contrast, and creative meaning making. This in turn opens a dialogue into the potential to read Woolf—and in so doing, to model a methodology of reading and engaging literature at large—in support of a post-secular, spiritually-imbued commitment to the creative advance that functions outside of specific doctrinal or traditional religious confines. By taking seriously the way that Woolf speaks reverently of the pattern ‘behind the cotton wool’ of everyday life through which ‘all human beings…are connected,’ I explore the ways in which Woolf uses her characters (and imbues those characters with her own selfhood) to substantiate the creative cultivation of meaning and how it operates as a significant practice of spiritual value both within and outside of traditional models of spirituality, thereby highlighting new inroads for scholarly understandings and readings across numerous subdisciplines in theology, philosophy, literature, and beyond.

2. Helene Blomqvist (University of Karlstad, helene.blomqvist@kau.se)

Lines in Stone, No Lines At All or Lines in Sand: On the Fear of Blasphemy and the Necessity of Listening to the Blasphemer

We cannot live in and with chaos. We must draw maps of reality in order to navigate in it. But how adequate are our maps? This is a disturbing question. Salman Rushdie says that blasphemy is not just saying that which must not be said, but it is saying that which cannot even be thought. The blasphemer dares to say that which challenges our maps of reality to such an extent that we cannot even imagine it. If we start listening to the blasphemer the lines of our maps would get blurred. The waters of Chaos would start to seep in. All our mapping lines are really unstable lines in sand. But the more we are forced to become aware of their provisional character, the deeper we try to inscribe them in the ground. We begin to hold our provisional lines in sand as THE TRUTH. For what do we have without the lines of traditions, beliefs, consensus? Chaos. Desert. So we begin setting our lines in stone. But what if we started to listen to the blasphemer? What if we let him or her challenge our precious lines? Maybe we could go out into the desert and meet ourselves and each other. Maybe we could even meet the One that is above all of our traditions, all of our mappings, all of our lines in sand… This paper investigates the possibilities, the ethics and aesthetics of blasphemy in some 18th century literary examples, starting with Voltaire’s poem on the Lisbon earthquake, a poem that questioned the prevailing consensus on a moral world order – it said that which could not even be thought – thereby challenging the current reality maps and heralding the paradigmatic shift known as secularization.

3. Ray Horton (Case Western Reserve University, rlh137@case.edu)

The Limits of (Post) Secular Critique

The past decade of literary theory has witnessed two significant developments, changes which, despite their simultaneity, are rarely considered on each other’s terms: the reappraisal of critique and the decentering of the secularization thesis. I will examine what scholarship on the border of religion and literature would gain by converging the insights of these parallel streams. Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (2015) is the latest of many attempts to rethink the centrality of critique to literary studies. In The Limits of Critique, she argues that what Ricoeur calls the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ has fossilized into a predictable disciplinary norm promoting ‘knowingness’ over knowledge. She encourages us to revisit other hermeneutics that Ricoeur enumerates: hermeneutics of revelation and of trust, a ‘phenomenological account’ that seeks ‘to figure out how things mean and how they matter’ (107). Nevertheless, what we call postsecular criticism—an effort to rethink suspicion with regard to religion—routinely applies the methods of symptomatic knowingness to its object of study, literature. Postsecular critics, as I will demonstrate, deconstruct literature’s pretensions to secularism by historicizing texts’ positions within an overdetermined religious milieu. I will argue that a more fruitful way to replace the secularization thesis in literary studies would derive from an approach that takes seriously the counterfactual ambitions of the texts we study, to first ask, as Felski puts it, ‘how things mean and how they matter’. With examples from three contemporary American writers (Colson Whitehead, Ben Lerner, and Maggie Nelson), I will show that many who seem to fit the postsecular paradigm have discerned new ways of fusing religious and aesthetic concerns. Neither secularist nor postsecular, such writers discover, in the background beliefs and practices of religious language, an aesthetic device for vivifying the surfaces of mundane perceptions, quotidian experiences, and ephemeral images.

Session Two: Borders and the Self

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

1. Beth Dodd (Sarum College, bdodd@sarum.ac.uk)

 Thomas Traherne, R.S. Thomas and the Borderlands of the Self

This paper is a tale of two Thomases. The one, Thomas Traherne, in popular perception is the eternal optimist and joyful expositor of the wonders of the kingdom of heaven. The other, R.S. Thomas, plagued by anger and misery, writes poetry in the interrogative tone of challenge and irony. Nevertheless, there is much to unite the two Thomases’ visions of God. Both were Anglican poet-priests, turning their poetry to contemplation of spiritual experience and both are poets of the borderlands, having ministered on the Anglo-Welsh borders. It is in how their experience of the borderlands is manifest in their poetry that an instructive comparison can be drawn. There is a distinction to be made between borders and borderlands. Borders are the edge of things; they are designed to define, to protect and to repel. Borderlands by contrast are beyond the edge; far from providing definition they render boundaries uncertain, becoming places of conflict. Borderlands are a no-place, but one in which it is possible to subsist, as neither one thing nor the other. Borders and boundaries have been key themes in critical discussion of the work of both poets. However, a focus on the borderlands alters the questions which are asked and the tone of the response. This paper focuses on borderlands of the self – that between nonbeing and being, the moment of creation. A comparison of the poets’ treatments of pre-existence and creation reveals one poet at home in the borderlands, able to play across the boundaries; the other sees the borderlands as contested ground, a field of battle. This observation has much tell us about the poets’ orientation towards the borderlands in their use of poetic form – the borderlands of language – and their relationship with the world and with God – on the borderlands of the self.

2. Kathryn Wills (University of Glasgow, k.wills.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

Crossing the Threshold of Presence

Yves Bonnefoy, a key figure in post-war French culture, a poet and a major critic of both literature and art, translated many of WB Yeats’s major poems. In 1989 he published a collection of these translations with his own explanatory preface. Some of Bonnefoy’s translations change Yeats’s meanings. My paper asks how and why Bonnefoy’s translation of ‘Among Schoolchildren’ differs in many key aspects from the Yeats’s version; Bonnefoy seems to reframe the original inspiration of the poem as a lyric meditation on human finitude and hope rather than a melancholy reflection on the failure of life to deliver its promises. I will use the phenomenology of Jean-Luc Marion to explore the crucial changes Bonnefoy makes, particularly Marion’s idea of the saturated phenomenon in Being Given, as idol and icon; his analysis of the phenomenological reduction reveals images as saturated by the observer’s own awareness. The idol captures as much of the visible as is possible for an image, but the icon crosses to the invisible since it is an image of a human or divine face; we have crossed a numinous threshold. Yeats uses the idea of images very precisely in his poem, suggesting that religious images, a child’s presence and the face of a lover are all idols – images constructed wholly from the surface appearance of the object, bedazzling the observer like a beautiful painting. To what extent does Bonnefoy’s translation recalibrate such images to more resemble icons which reveal an infinite depth of human and divine presence, an endless hermeneutic crossing from the visible to the invisible, and how does he modify such a hermeneutic to reflect his preoccupation with finitude?

3. Hester Jones (University of Bristol, egshej@bristol.ac.uk)

Correct Compassion: Contradiction or Paradox

This paper will consider John 8 1-11 as a point from which to consider two things: firstly the growth over the last decade or so in interest in theological and philosophical quarters in compassion as a virtue and a practice (and the work of Oliver Davies and Martha Nussbaum will figure in this discussion). This paper will bring this shifting and increasingly articulate foregrounding of compassion into relation with the theology of Catherine Keller and John Caputo, among others, whose work continues to express with powerful integrity the ‘groundless ground’ of compassionate seeing.  Secondly, having outlined this context for theological and philosophical enquiry, the paper will consider how such versatile accounts of compassion may be brought into relation with literary and poetic expression. James Kirkup’s ‘A correct compassion’ will form the focus by which a number of such literary articulations of compassion are discussed.


Session Three: Borders, Negation, and Beyond

Saturday 10th September, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.

1. James H. Thrall (Knox College, jthrall@knox.edu)

Mediated Borders and Sacred Texts in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed television series The Man in the High Castle (2015) has renewed interest in Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternative history novel, on which it is based. What if, Dick asks, the Allies lost the Second World War, and the United States was divided into German and Japanese occupation zones? What conflicts of culture, played out in the stark geographic divisions and the buffer region between, would shape Japanese, German, and increasingly hybrid American identities? What readjustments of perspective on the nature of oppression and resistance would be needed to contemplate twentieth-century (or twenty-first-century) America as colonized rather than colonizing? Finally, how might such a focus on the contingency of history invite consideration of the porous and always mediated boundaries between what ‘really’ happened, and what did not? This paper explores the novel’s complex investigations into literal and figurative, but almost always fluid, borders that determine national identities and distinguish competing understandings of history. Key to Dick’s literary experiment is the idea of texts as sacred in their function of shaping reality through the creation of worldviews. These texts include familiar forms. Dick famously relied on the I Ching for plot advice in writing his novel, for example, as does the fictional author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel-in-a-novel represented by a newsreel film in the series. Yet an inter-related and multi-leveled network of other texts, including other scripture, but also seemingly secular products of popular fiction and media—the Grasshopper novel/newsreel, Dick’s own writing, the television series—highlight the diversity of what can serve such sacred, meaning-establishing roles. In addition, this paper will consider how engagement with the speculative function of science fiction as a genre, and of alternative history as a potent subgenre, might inspire the shaping of alternative futures.

2. Michael J. Thate (Princeton University, mthate@princeton.edu)

There Has Never Been Such a Fish: the Beyond and Its Crossing in The Old Man and the Sea

Toward the end of Ernest Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea, the fishermen gather around the ‘white naked line’ of skeletal bone collapsed next to the old man’s boat. Amidst the clamoring crowd, the testimony of the proprietor reflects an ambiguity: ‘There has never been such a fish.’ This can be read in one of at least two ways. Are we to read this as a superlative of comparison? No such fish could rival this one caught by the old man? Or, should we read it as a statement of counter-fact? The fish has never existed? In this brief essay, I want to suggest a reading of The Old Man and the Sea as a parable of modernity’s inability to solve this ambiguity. In particular, I want to focus on themes of trespass and crossing. The old man rows ‘far out’ beyond the normal spaces of the harbour. And it is in the realm of the beyond where the salao and bareness he had been experiencing for eighty-for days was lifted by the bounty of the giant marlin. The irony of the story is that the trespass of limits lifted the old man’s salao even as it ruined him upon his return. Bounty cannot be brought back from the beyond. In this paper, I attempt to read The Old Man and the Sea alongside developing theories of the enclosure and sovereignty’s spatial politics. The ambiguity of the proprietor’s statement enacts the enclosure’s inability to recognize any trace (or arche-fossil) from the beyond even as it reflects an anxiety and suspicion of its own boundaries.

3. Aidan Tynan (Cardiff University, tynana@cardiff.ac.uk)

Vacant Lots: Geographies of Indifference from Acidie to the Anthropocene

Nietzsche observed that the ‘basic fact’ of the human will lies in its ‘horror vacui’, its fear of emptiness. Our existential condition is defined by a search for meaningful goals, but this search is impossible without some form of intuition of an absolute emptiness motivating the search. As Nietzsche wrote, ‘the genuine men, the free spirits, have always dwelt in the desert’. The latter, in its very emptiness or indifference, provides a kind of geography of the spiritual condition of the will. This paper, following Nietzsche’s insights, explores the theological, aesthetic and environmental significances of empty space. I explore the notion of ‘accidie’, an ancient Greek term suggesting apathy or negligence but identified by the early Christian Desert monks with the deadly sin of sloth. Aldous Huxley argued that accidie becomes secularised by the Romantics and transformed into a mode of exalted boredom. I argue that this is key to understanding modern and contemporary urban experience. The London of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ was defined by F.R. Leavis as a site of accidie, and Eliot’s work maintained a fascination with the poetics of empty landscapes. I explore the origins of the idea of ‘terrain vagues’ in the poetry of Laforgue, tracing it through the urban visions of William S. Burroughs and Don DeLillo, suggesting that the vacant lot motif can tell us about modern spatial anxieties, drawing on the Spanish architect de Sola Morales’ to conceptualise the abandoned spaces of the post-industrial city. I conclude on biologist E.O. Wilson’s notion that our contemporary ecological and environmental condition should be characterised as the ‘eremozoic’, an Age of Deserts or Loneliness. For Wilson, the mass extinction event current underway is leading into an age of biological impoverishment, with the Earth itself is becoming a kind of indifferent space, a ‘terrain vague’.

Session Four: Death, Loss and Martyrdom

Saturday 10th September, 1.00 – 2.30 p.m.

1. Lizzie Ludlow (Anglia Ruskin University, elizabeth.ludlow@anglia.ac.uk)

Representations of Female Martyrdom and Monasticism in Mid-Victorian Fiction

In his 1989 essay, ‘The Body’s Grace’, Rowan Williams explains how the celibate must find an authentic bodily self ‘in a life dependent simply upon trust in the generous delight of God’. In his novel Callista (1855), John Henry Newman has his female protagonist express the kind of complete exposure to the desirous perception of God that Williams defines. As she is martyred, Callista cries out from the words of the Song of Solomon: ‘Accept me, O my Love, upon this bed of pain… make haste and come’. By putting these words of Scripture into her mouth, Newman extends his critique of their use in the conflation of divine and human desire that is offered in Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia (1852-3). Through this novel, Kingsley exalts married love and describes the retreat into the desert that Philammon and his sister Pelagia make as a rejection of the world rather than a renunciation borne out of a recognition of the body’s grace and an embrace of life on the borders. Taking as a springboard the debates over the interpretation of the Song of Solomon, this paper unpacks how martyrdom and monasticism are represented in the responses to Kingsley that Newman offers in Callista and Nicholas Wiseman offers in Fabiola (1854). I suggest how both Callista and Fabiola extend the contours of the novel genre and challenge the expectations of the Victorian bildunsgroman as they detail the reimaginging of personhood that is experienced by characters who find an authentic bodily self in identification with the figure of Christ. After explaining how the novels encourage readers to reimagine their personhood within the wider Communion of Saints that stretches beyond time and place, I explain how they depict the martyr and monastic after the pattern of the Good Shepherd and the suffering servant.

2. Roy Peachey (John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, erpeachey@gmail.com)

Death in the Desert: On Three Ways of Blurring Lines in the Sand in Contemporary Literary Fiction

Taking their characters into the desert, a place of death and discovery, contemporary novelists have explored the space between religion and the secular in a variety of challenging ways. In this paper, I examine death in the desert in Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus, Boualem Sansal’s 2084 and Jim Crace’s Quarantine and explore the blurring of religious and secular understandings of modernity through a reconsideration of the relationship between past, present and future in contemporary literary fiction. By analysing these three prizewinning novels, I also attempt to shed light on the construction of literary, religious and generic borders by writers from quite different literary and religious traditions. Specifically, I shall explore how Vodolazkin, who is an expert in Old Russian Literature, reconfigures the modern novel by exploiting the resources of premodern literature in the context of a Russian Orthodox cultural and political revival, how Boualem Sansal rewrites the Orwellian political novel in the context of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in North Africa, and how Crace, implicitly drawing upon particular understandings of secularization theory, reimagines the Biblical story of Christ’s temptation in the desert.

3. Sára Tóth (Károli Gáspár University, miklosne.tothsara@gmail.com)

A Mourning Which Will Not Be Comforted: Remembrance of Loss and Suffering in Marilynne Robinson’s Novels

In her most recent novel, Lila, the third in the Gilead-sequel, American author Marylinne Robinson has remained committed to a hopeful view of the human condition. Reverend Ames, the protagonist of Gilead is ultimately a man of contentment who has accepted life and earned peace by his old age. Complementing Ames’ life story, the last novel is about a successful homehoming, in the course of which his second wife, a harassed and lonely orphan experiences love and acceptance in her new-found family. In my paper, however, I attempt an interpretation of Robinson’s literary world which does equal justice to her considerably darker first novel, Housekeeping, arguing that the relentless confrontation with the tragic in that work, in which Ruth, the protagonist finds herself a social outcast in permanent mourning by the end, is not a perspective the later novels have superseded. Indeed, all four novels display a simultaneous vision of darkness and light, sorrow and joy. The characters’ losses as well as joys are simultaneously present in their consciousness, creating a tension which is never resolved. The Christian tradition has tended to resolve it by imagining not only a final victory over evil, but also an obliteration of painful memories in heaven. The majority of classical theologians, including Calvin, imagine the ascended Christ without his wounds, whereas for a minority such as Bede and Aquinas, the cross has an eternal presence and significance. The novels appear to side with the minority, suggesting that not only in this world is it crucial to remember sorrows and losses, but more radically, they will not be forgotten in heaven either. Far from being futile, this imaginative speculation, as I hope to show, significantly influences the way we think about human history and about the beauty and value of individual lives within it.

Session Five: Theological Reflections on Literature

Saturday 10th September, 2.45 – 4.15 p.m.

1. Ruby Guyatt (University of Cambridge, rsg47@cam.ac.uk)

Rowan Williams and the Possibilities of Literature: Self-Knowledge and God-Knowledge

In this paper I turn to Rowan Williams’ Grace and Necessity and The Edge of Words to examine the specifically Trinitarian theological significance of literature. The theological significance of certain forms of literature, I propose, can be uncovered by examining these alongside Williams’ reconstruction of the interrelated Augustinian models of Self and Trinity. Human life is shaped according to freedom and finitude – structures that Williams asserts speak to the Divine life, and are enacted by literature. Humans possess capacities for abstract thought and linguistic sophistication, which in turn grant us the freedom to make and remake our world(s) in ways that are literally dishonest but figuratively true. Literature, like the Trinity but unlike the dryness of some systematic theology, exhibits a messier and more participatory form, one better suited to capturing and enacting human creatureliness. Examined through Williams’ Augustinian lens, the literary emerges as theological in its functioning as a source of Self-knowledge – which is only such provided that it involves knowing and loving oneself as known and loved by God. Williams’ unfolding of the paradoxes of Self-knowledge – of ‘loving before we know, yet needing to know before we love’ – allows one to grasp the participatory nature of literature and the Trinity, both of which encourage ‘movement into our createdness.’ Delving further still into the Trinitarian significance of literature, I examine some of the ways in which the literary might perform the psychological vestige of the Trinity, particularly in terms of an echo of substantial relations, and the nature of the spirit as bond and gift. Literary performance, I suggest, is more than an illustration of the psychic and interpersonal. Rather, it is partially constitutive of it.

2. Charles Gillespie (University of Virginia, cag3dt@virginia.edu)

Confessing Rhetorical Lines: Augustine’s Positive Performance Theory

Two phenomena—virtuosic literary descriptions of events and the conference performance of scholarship—point to the complex relationship between writing and embodiment. Theologizing representation in Christian thought remains entangled with an ancient anti-theatrical bias. Early church figures like Tertullian drew a sharp line between the sacramental performance of the Eucharist and the violent civic rituals of Roman spectacles. These anxieties appropriated the logic that banished tragedians from Plato’s Republic: theatrical mimesis blurs distinctions between artistic falsehood and real life. But, much like Plato’s philosophical poetry, Augustine’s rhetorical skill troubles an easy and general binary between the holy drama of liturgy and the demonic charades of theatrical spectacle. Rather than add to Augustine’s warnings about the danger of theatre, I try to develop Augustine’s positive account of performance. Augustine’s literary gifts help take theatre more seriously. In only a few pages, Erich Auerbach unfolds the Alypius passage in Confessions VI as a text rich with rhetorical devices that simulate both Biblical parataxis and Ciceronian crescendo. Drawing on my work in theatre studies, my presentation will use a ‘performative research methodology’ to stage a live performance example demonstrating how Augustine’s prose ‘feels and directly presents human life, and it lives before our eyes’ (Auerbach, Mimesis). I juxtapose Auerbach’s account of the Roman games in Confessions and City of God with Augustine’s preaching on Eucharistic vision. Liturgical performance makes present a reality that re-figures memory and community. Augustine’s rhetoric aims at transfiguration: he calls for a reader’s own conversion in Confessions; he gives a sense of civic pilgrimage to consummation in City of God; he invites hearers of Sermon 272 to become a new body. Augustine need not further separate textual analysis from embodied re-presentation; indeed, he might be an unexpected ally for crossing the anti-theatrical line in religion and literature scholarship.

3. Brian Bantum (Seattle Pacific University, bantum@spu.edu)

Can Theology Be Literary? Should It?

The year I turned forty I began to write short stories. Some might call it a mid-life crisis, but I like to think of this turn as becoming open to what could be, for my body, my mind, my work. This possibility of becoming became vivid for me while I was auditing a class on writing short fiction. The professor was providing the parameters of the assignment for the semester. The story needed to be a piece of literary fiction (not science fiction or young adult or fantasy), third person-limited in its point of view, and no longer than five thousand words. I sat in this class of twenty undergraduate students and realized that in my twenty years of writing theology I had never had to ask the question, ‘Who is speaking in my writing?’ I have not been asked questions of genre (which is different than method). When I wrote a theological essay I wrestled with histories or traditions or methodologies. But I did not have to ask who spoke and who remained silent. I did not have to wrestle with what the protagonist could not know and how that not knowing might uncover some truth about our world. In my presentation I will outline the beginnings of a ‘literary theology’ by suggesting how the theological task shifts when it is bound by literary conventions and aims. Literary theology is the hope for a theological reflection beyond ‘art + theology.’ Drawing upon Annie Dillard and Toni Morrison’s reflections on the task of writing will argue for the unveiling of academic theology as genre and literature, not as resource, but a necessary form of theology that is desperately needed in our contemporary moment.

Session Six: Transformations

Sunday 11th September, 9.00- 10.30 a.m.

1. Brenton Dickieson (University of Chester, brentondickieson@hotmail.com)

Criticism as Conversion: Active Surrender in C. S. Lewis’s Spiritual Theology

Theologian Michael J. Gorman uses the term ‘cruciformity’ to take up the Imitatio Christi and discuss in greater depth the pattern of cross in spiritual formation. Christ’s own surrender to the cross shapes the believer’s posture before the world in worship, relationships, political action, and missional engagement. In surrendering to be ‘crucified with Christ,’ the self is set aside (Gal 2:19-20). In this view conversion is not a one-time event and the cross is not merely salvific; these are dominant motifs of Christian praxis. When one considers the semantic overlap of these surrender images—self-death, departure from self, self-crucifixion, submission, obedience—it is not difficult to problematize this Christian perspective. How often, for example, has this call to submission led to subjugation and suppression of women in marriage and community? Brown and Parker call this cross-praxis ‘an abusive theology.’ Even considering believers who cherish the symbolic layers of the cross, Fisk is correct that ‘the crucifixion has cast a long shadow on western Christianity.’ For many, the founding event of Christianity is a theological red line. Like most who have written of cross-patterned spirituality, C.S. Lewis does not address the potential for ‘abusive theology.’ Yet he has within his literary criticism an inversive approach to cruciformity that informs his treatment of Christian praxis in his fiction and nonfiction. In An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis casts the reader-book relationship in terms of religious conversion and worship, suggesting that one must surrender to the literature. This self-death, however, is not mere passivity, but an active and engaged choice. This voluntary active-surrender metaphor—being crucified to books, in a sense—anticipates a possible response to the problematic nature of this cruciform spiritual posture.

2. Aparajita Nanda (University of California, Berkeley, aparananda@berkeley.edu)

Transformed Futures: Butler’s Third Identity and Hindu Philosophy

In a panel discussion, ‘Science Future and Science Fiction,’ at the University of Los Angeles, Octavia Butler spoke about the Space Race and the frenzy of the new millennium, saying that it is dangerous to assume that human progress lies in a mindless reiteration of the history of human arrogance. She suggested the necessity of wisdom and, even more than wisdom, ‘breaks… to change human beings’— ‘breaks’ that exist in religion. Sustaining these breaks, she argued, will not be easy but humanity needs them to survive their destructive, almost self-annihilating mindset. Butler’s science fiction trilogy Lilith’s Brood proposes an antidote for the dogmatic human attitudes that prognosticate complete destruction of the human species.  Butler’s text opens in the wake of a human-led nuclear apocalypse where the few surviving humans are rescued by the Oankali, an animal-like, gene-trading alien species, who intend to interbreed with the humans to create a superior breed of Human-Oankali constructs. The Oankali justify their mission by stating that humans need to be rid of their Contradiction—a combination of intelligence and hierarchical thinking—and accept a genetic elimination of the violent trait to produce a sustainable, creolized third identity. This third identity, a product of the human/animal interface, birthed of human intelligence and alien-animal connectivity to all species clearly proposes a call for transformative action. Questioning the established boundaries of power-fraught anthropocentrism by blurring the human-animal divide, it draws ‘lines in sand,’ inscriptions of hope for future eras to come. This paper furthers this concept as it offers a reading of Butler’s third identity based off Hinduism—  a philosophy built on the  concept of a  Life Force that flows through  humans, animals and plants emanating from and going back to its essential source in Godhood— and some of its seminal texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads.

3. Aleksandra Słyszewska (University of Gdańsk, olaslyszewska@gmail.com)

 ‘More Artful Theology’: New Catholic Narratives

Relation of religion, literature and culture does not cease to attract attention of writers and thinkers, even those who claim that we live in the secular, post-Christian age. It  remains a point of interest and a source of inspiration for new theories concerning spiritual life and its literary manifestations. One of such theories has been developed by Sara Maitland, a British writer and feminist, who argues for reinventing a strong connection between religion and literature. She advocates development of a ‘more artful theology’ that would allow and even encourage new artistic interpretations of canonical texts. She defines theology as the art of telling stories about the divine, as well as the art of listening to those stories. Open dialog, a crutial element in this process, would result in defamiliarisation of well-known elements and conventions, challenge literary tradition and inspire new points of view. The aim of this new type of literature advocated by Maitland is to affirm and call attention to difference. According to her, both art and theology have a strong transformative potential which can be best expressed in works of literature. Her ideas when employed in investigation of English Catholic literature of the late twentieth and twenty-first century reveal a growing interest of writers to present new points of view and new aspects of Catholic spiritual life. Feminism, gender issues as well as social and liturgical changes within the church gain importance and allow new voices in the discussion on English Catholicism. The paper attempts to investigate whether these new elements contribute to development of Catholic literature or, due to departure from traditional ways of presentation, are only signs of its decline. Authors taken into consideration are David Lodge, Muriel Spark, Anthony Burgess and Sara Maitland.

Lost in Translation: Globalization, Secularization, and the Issue of the Untranslatable

Laurens ten Kate (University of the Humanities, l.tenkate@uvh.nl)

Bart Philipsen (University of Leuven, bart.philipsen@arts.kuleuven.be) and

Aukje van Rooden (University of Amsterdam, a.vanRooden@uva.nl)

One of the main approaches to globalization points to an increasingly unified world, and to a humanity at last in an intimate state of contact with itself. This world is where attachment is no longer limited to ethnic affiliation, religious tradition or geographical proximity, and where it has been displaced onto a universal subject: the global human community. Moreover, this celebration of global belonging is motivated by a self-fulfilling process of secularization, relying on the idea that a non- or post-religious mode of existence has become the only possible way to live in the world. In this panel we seek to explore the ways in which this discourse of global, secular belonging is put under pressure by the issue of theuntranslatable. In the mutual exposure of traditions, languages and worldviews a space of the untranslatable (Cassin, Apter) is created. In this interstitial space the borders, conflicts and transitions between our languages and imaginaries are reaffirmed as well as problematized, opening up new, untranslatable modes of co-existence, of ‘being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger) or ‘being-in-common’ (Nancy).

Session One

Saturday 10th September, 2.45 – 4.15 p.m.

1.     Laurens ten Kate (University of the Humanities, l.tenkate@uvh.nl)

Introduction to the Panel

2.     Paolo Barbaro (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études, paolo-barbaro@libero.it)

When the End is Not Important: Portrayal and Imaginaries of the Way of St James in Contemporary Japan as a Statement on the Irreducible Value of Heterotopy

The increase in the number of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago is related in many ways to the so-called Japanese pilgrimage boom. Similarities that are deep on a sociological and existential level challenge theories on globalization and on post-religious modes of existence. The mutual (Japanese-European) exposure and use of religious experiences and lores, visible in various forms of narrative, creates new interpretations, defies power relationships, reaffirms traditional imaginaries and identities, and above all shows the irreducible value of heterotopy as a powerful (therefore dangerous) means of (personal and social) research, knowledge, mythopoiesis and creation of meaning.

3.     Henri Bloemen, (University of Leuven, henri.bloemen@kuleuven.be)

Pointing at What Language Might Have to Say: Translation as an Heuristic Instrument of Historical/Messianic Knowledge in Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’

In contrast to the wide spread conviction that translation is a medium of communication Walter Benjamin argues that translation may ‘witness’ the knowledge hidden in language and its historic movement (‘Sprachbewegung’). More than the original work itself, translation may point at that ‘sacred growth of languages’. Although the final stadium of language (‘reine Sprache’), is ‘predetermined, inaccessible’ translation, refers intensively to that final stage. Against this ‘background’ Benjamin redefines the ‘task’ of the translator and the leading concepts that have governed the practice of translation for centuries.

Session Two

Sunday 11th September, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.

1.     Philip Leonard (Nottingham Trent University, philip.leonard@ntu.ac.uk)

What Counts as Literature?

Critics have repeatedly defined literature as an exceptional expression which, beyond all others, reveals the nature and order of things. Translation, as the establishing of equivalence between discourses, has been intrinsic to this classification, and quantification of literary value has often shaped it. This paper will consider how this effort to measure and quantify has re-emerged as a feature of world literature studies, focusing in particular on how the unity of the world is taken as axiomatic. It will look to Agamben, Apter, and Derrida, for whom the concept of the world evokes something other than a unitary and apprehendable space of attachment.

2.     Bart Philipsen (University of Leuven, bart.philipsen@arts.kuleuven.be)

The Poet as a Translator ‘In Lean Years’: On Friedrich Hölderlin’s Late Poetry

Friedrich Hölderlin’s utopian vision of a Pentecostal community of people, all speaking and understanding each other in their different ‘tongues’, turned in his late and last poems into the melancholic lament about its failure. Yet, instead of supplanting this failure by the idealist ideal of an encompassing world literature like his famous countryman Goethe, Hölderlin developed a new and surprisingly modern poetics and hermeneutics that tries to collect and transmit the dispersed traces of a hidden ‘common spirit’ beyond the obsession of a consensual and universal understanding.

3. Aukje van Rooden (University of Amsterdam, a.vanRooden@uva.nl)

Lost at Home

In the act of translation, languages tend to lose their self-evidence and open up to what Blanchot calls their ‘foreignness of origin’. According to Blanchot, this intrinsic foreignness is cultivated in literature, whose technique is to unhinge language from its habitual use. I will investigate to what extent this original foreignness transforms the age-old ideal of literature as the ultimate mediator between languages, cultures, and people, that is, as the means to create a shared world of meaning. It is especially Nancy’s work on globalization and world-formation that proves to be invaluable when we try to reconsider what it means to ‘share’ a ‘world’ through literary language.



Material Religion

  1. Brent Plate (Hamilton College, splate@hamilton.edu)

Objects and media, bodies and senses, books and symbols, spaces and times, all operate together to shape religious worlds. Materiality stands at the heart of religious life. We are interested in papers or panels that explore some of these dimensions. In keeping with the conference theme, we are especially interested in thinking about the transformation of objects and bodies as they cross cultural and political borders, or occupy different sites. This includes transitions from ritual settings to museums, and libraries to sanctuaries. We are holding a session on the ‘material texts’ in conjunction with the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections.

Session One: ‘The Spaces of Religion: Museum, Education, Home’

Friday 9th September, 1.30 – 3.00 p.m.

Rm 202, 4 University Gardens

1. Emily Harris (Queen Mary University of London, emily.harris@qmul.ac.uk)

Material Religion in the Home and Museum

This paper will examine material religion in two different sites: the home and the museum. The material culture of the home is a growing area of research, but its role in religious homes has yet to be considered extensively, despite indications of its importance. My own project responds to this, working with a material, embodied and emplaced understanding of religion and a multi-scalar understanding of the home. In the first part of this paper, I will outline the home as a key site of material religion in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, citing previous work and my own initial ethnographic findings. In the second part of my paper I will focus on a second space – the museum – as a site of material religion. I will discuss the ways in which material culture – both recorded and displayed – will form part of my contribution to the museum’s archive and future gallery displays, in relation to ongoing debates about religion in museums. I hope to then conclude by thinking critically about the transformation of (religious) bodies and objects as they occupy the different sites of the home and the museum, particularly during interfaith praxis. I will relate this to my involvement with the Geffrye Museum’s new interfaith panel and the new forms of inter-religious dialogue I hope to develop towards the end of my project.

2. David Tollerton (University of Exeter, d.c.tollerton@exeter.ac.uk)

Politico-Religious Boundaries and the New British Holocaust Memorial

In January 2016 the UK government announced that a new national Holocaust memorial will be erected alongside the Houses of Parliament in London. Emphasising permanence of memory and ‘iconic’ status, the press releases convey a determination that it will become a key site of pilgrimage for visitors to the heart of Britain’s democracy. Current Holocaust memorials and museums in the UK, US, Israel, and elsewhere are often framed via biblical allusion as sacred locations, and planning documents show the new UK memorial to be explicitly drawing from such transnational precedents. As such, its creation will contribute another chapter to a long-standing debate about Holocaust memory entering core geographical terrains of civil religion. But the new London memorial also brings dimensions particular to its British context, Prime Minister David Cameron declaring that it will stand ‘beside Parliament as a permanent statement of our values as a nation’. Specific cultural dynamics emerge from a range of factors: Britain’s perceptions of its own wartime and colonial histories, contemporary relations with and between religious minorities, navigation of a once-dominant Christian heritage, and the current government’s concerted promotion of ‘British values’. But I also wish to consider the planned memorial’s immediate surroundings in Victoria Tower Gardens, amidst monuments to war memory, the abolition of slavery, and the suffragette movements. This paper will therefore critically discuss plans for this new site in relation to its direct material surroundings, its national location, and its linkages to transnational patterns of physical Holocaust memorialisation.

3. Francis Stewart (University of Stirling, francis.stewart@stir.ac.uk)

Blurring the Educational Lines? Material Religion in the Undergraduate Classroom

This paper will argue that through engaging with material religion in the undergraduate classroom the educational space can become a sacred space, perhaps even site. Taking the pedagogy of the classroom from the principle Brent Plate argues that, ‘we can’t understand religion until we understand these physical elements of life as well’ (2015) this paper will provide examples from an experimental honours level course on Material Religion. The examples aim to show the potential of material religion lessons to help students cross standard lines and move from thinking of the classroom as a passive educational site, or a place to express un(in)formed opinions or engage in critical discourse into a space in which they are engaging with life transformations and interactions with both each other and with learning. That is the classroom becoming a sacred space. The final section of the paper will explore the impact of this learning approach on the lecturer and the implications for their role as a researcher, by demonstrating how the responses of students to practical lessons can be applied to field work to bring a deeper level of interaction and interviewing founded on Michael Jackson’s principle of storytelling as a means of vital bridge between different spheres of power – specifically public and private (2013).


Session Two: The Uses and Senses of Material Texts (in collaboration with the Special Collections at the University of Glasgow Library)

Saturday 10th September, 9.00-10.30 a.m.

1. Samuel Tongue (University of Glasgow, samuel.tongue@glasgow.ac.uk)

Marginal Maps: Geopieties in 16th Protestant Bibles

Glasgow University’s Special Collections contains a 1537 ‘Matthews’ (Tyndale-Coverdale) Bible with some fascinating marginalia. Opposite the title page, and alongside a hand-drawn chronological table showing the time elapsed since various biblical events up to 1651, a previous owner has sketched in a rude copy of a Holy Land map which bears very strong resemblances to that included in the Geneva Bible (1560). Maps in bibles arise within a complex nexus of historical and theological contexts prompted, in no small part, by the development of print media. Incorporating book history, marginalia studies, and biblical cartography, I position this marginal map as a centre point opening onto a number of interrelated questions: Why might the owner have perceived his bible as somehow lacking in relation to the scholarly and parabiblical material included in the Geneva Bible? How is this sketched map operating as an example of a ‘geopiety’ (Long, 2003) towards an unvisited Holy Land? And how does such a marginal map contribute to the ‘fabulously textual’ process (Derrida, 1984) of the cultural cartography of the Holy Land, itself a continuing ideality constructed from a variety of media?

2. James Watts (Syracuse University, jwwatts@syr.edu)

Ritualizing a Relic Book: The Hunterian Psalter

Ritualizing the iconic dimension of a particular text draws sustained attention to its individual history. The narration of its history serves to further ritualize the text that now becomes a singular object to be viewed and admired, as much as to be read. Digitizing such a relic text does not change this dynamic, but simply deepens and extends it to more people in more places. These observations will be illustrated and complicated by examining the presentation of the Hunterian Psalter in the library of Glasgow University.

3. Rachel Wagner (Ithaca College, rwagner@ithaca.edu)

Hammering Heaven: The Materializing of Apocalypse in Blake’s Illuminated Works

For William Blake, the otherworldly apocalyptic journey begins in a very this-worldly place. Blake’s poems depict allegorical entities populating an otherworldly landscape, but his poems are defined by their this-worldly production and reception. Blake was above all an engraver. Thus, his poems are all unique material objects, marked by the individualized processes that brought them into being. Blake doesn’t just write words with simple ink; he casts words through the intrinsically material forms of burning, scratching, hammering, and forging of copper plates. For Blake, a poetic text is not just a transcript of experience: it is a corporeal process of inscribing metals with needles and acid, creating the physical imprint from which visual and textual worlds can emerge and readers can be transported. Texts are both material and verbal portals, characterized by the bodies that fly in, around, and through the deliberately engraved scripts, which reflect in their own materiality the physical processes by which the texts came to be. Readers are invited to enter into those spaces, to encounter the text as pointing always at once into the imaginary world of the words and also back into the material world of the embodied reader. For Blake, words are not just ideas, but also things. When we look at Blake’s poetry, we are seeing the inked residue of a manual process that is grounded in the actions of the poet-engraver. Apocalypse, for Blake, is more than an otherworldly journey: it is a process of recognition of the material conditions under which imagination gives way to inspiration, material display to otherworldly experience. Instead of pointing away from the world, Blake’s engraved poems also point us back to our own world, displaying in their materiality a promise of apocalyptic reunification that includes the earth as we know it in its prophetic embrace.

Session Three: ‘Moving Religion’: Materialising the Sacred in Theme Parks, Shops, Archaeological Sites and Museums

Saturday 11th September, 10.45 a.m. – 12.15 p.m.

1. Charles Orzech (University of Glasgow, charles.orzech@glasgow.ac.uk)

God in the Museum: Buddhist Deities, Divine Agency, and the Museum Environment

The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conceit that ‘pagan fetishes’ were lifeless curiosities, hunks of wood or stone in exotic form, still haunts both comparative religion and many museum displays of Asian religious objects. On a recent visit to one regional museum in the United States I encountered a room of Hindu and Buddhist deities lined up along the walls with virtually no contextual information. Considerable research into the fabrication, consecration, and use of Asian images has demonstrated that the gods are considered to be living social beings and integral nodes in living religious communities. Yet, displays designed to invoke living context often have the feeling of a ruse. An alternative approach is suggested by the work of Bruno Latour, Tim Ingold, Graham Harvey, and Glenn Peers among others. This approach seeks to deconstruct our Cartesian, scientific, and objectivitist discourse by repurposing discourses about ‘animism’ and the agency of objects. In this presentation I will explore this phenomenological and agency-oriented perspective as an alternative to aesthetic and comparative religions discourses that now shape many museums displays of Asian religious objects. My examples will be drawn largely from displays of Tantric or Esoteric Buddhist deities in museums of world religions and exhibitions devoted to world religions.

2. Marion Bowman (Open University, marion.bowman@open.ac.uk)

Containing the Sacred? Cathedrals, Shopping and Spirituality

Pilgrimage centres traditionally have been, and continue to be, places rich in material culture. Such special or sacred places were and still are sites of commercialism, with artefacts on sale and a long tradition of pilgrims imbuing objects found there with significance on account of their connection with a sacred site. Coleman and Elsner refer to the souvenirs that pilgrims take home as ‘containers of the sacred’. Visitors numbers to English Cathedrals are soaring, and now include pilgrims, sightseers, heritage tourists and spiritual seekers of numerous nationalities. Visitors may wish to purchase a range of objects at a Cathedral, from devotional items to reminders of the Cathedral and replications of certain features of it. Cathedral shop managers frequently articulate their awareness of the importance of their shops in supporting their cathedrals, and the sometimes competing imperatives of what the public wants, what Cathedral Deans and Chapters want, and what makes commercial sense. Focusing on the dynamics of relationality and materiality, this paper examines the complex negotiations of boundaries (sacred/ secular; appropriate/ inappropriate) and blurring of denominational boundaries within English Cathedral shops, to examine what is taken away (physically and metaphysically) when people shop at Cathedrals.

3.      Jessica Hughes (Open University, jessica.hughes@open.ac.uk)

The Two Pompeiis: Lines, Borders and Meeting-Points between the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary and the UNESCO Archaeological Site of Pompeii

The town of Pompeii in Southern Italy presents a rich case-study for exploring boundaries between the ancient and modern, as well as between sacred and ‘profane’ spaces. Pompeii is world famous for the archaeological excavations of the Roman town buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in the first century AD, and most international visitors come here with the purpose of visiting these ancient ruins. Within the Catholic world, however, Pompeii is far better-known for its Pontifical Sanctuary dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary, which is home to a miracle-working icon and a significant collection of ex-votos. Pompeii thus attracts two separate populations of pilgrims, whose experiences of the town are radically different. This paper will draw on fieldwork completed in Spring 2016 to identify the history and nature of the boundaries existing within modern Pompeii, and in the scholarship on this historic location. I will then focus on points of permeability in these borders, such as the tiny Catholic chapel of St Paolinus situated at the edge of the Roman excavations, and the new museological initiatives which bring objects – and bodies – from these opposite sides of town together in a single location.




Nils Holger Petersen (University of Copenhagen, nhp@teol.ku.dk)

While critical and imaginative voices in literature and theology are frequently raised in various cultural situations, music has a different cultural position. Still, music has played significant roles in historical crises and changes, for instance in connection with religious reform movements. The question, however, is what kind of contribution music can give? Can music help to inscribe hope and resistance? Is music solely an aesthetic frame around ‘real’ discursive contents? Does music – in its own ways – do something or have something to ‘say’ beyond the boundaries of discursivity? The music panel seeks to explore the potential roles of music in religious, existential and political contexts in historical as well as present-day cultures. Which roles have music practices historically fulfilled and which roles may it fulfil in modern crises, transitions and conditions?

Session One

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

1. Kristin Rygg (Hedmark University of Applied Sciences, kristin.rygg@hihm.no)

Music, ‘The Other’ and Negotiations of Religious Borderlands

In the late Romantic era the Norwegian author Arne Garborg published his two books about Haugtussa, a young maiden from the wild coastal landscape of Norway (often referred to as Haugtussa I & II). Both works were epic cycles: collections of poems rendering great dramas experienced by this woman as she encounters realms of existence not normally accessible to human cognition. The international fame of Haugtussa depends perhaps on the song cycle by Edvard Grieg, composed on 8 poems from the first cycle. This paper will, however, not discuss Grieg’s music, but what I propose is a strong presence of musicalization in Garborg’s text and the potentially transcendental force invested in these evocational musicalizations. Previous scholarship has pointed out that Garborg may have been inspired by works such as the medieval Norwegian Dream Song (Draumkvedet), Dantes Divine Comedy and Goethe’s Faust when writing the works in question. However, nobody has, to my knowledge, even noticed Garborg’s extensive use of descriptions of music in these two epic cycles. I wish to explore the effect of these descriptions using theories on musicalization as developed within intermedial studies. Several scholars have to some extent discussed Garborg’s general interest in Schopen­hauer’s philosophy. In the interpretation of Haugtussa that I offer the importance of music and the Veil of Maya in Schopenhauer’s theories of cognition and individuation will provide a foundation for a new reading of the two works. Finally, after having shown how music in Garborg’s Haugtussa I & II becomes the voice of ‘The Other’, be it the terrible or the numinous, I shall discuss how the two cycles may be understood as negotiations of new religious cognition at the verge of the breakthrough of modernism.

2. Brannon Hancock (Indiana Wesleyan University, brannon.hancock@gmail.com)

With Groans Too Deep for Words: Toward a Theology of Apophatic Music

This paper explores the use of non-representational language and non-lexical vocables – that is, uses of the human voice otherwise than to convey linguistic meaning – in select works of 20th and 21st century popular and folk music. It considers musical examples ranging from vocal glossolalia – artists like Iceland’s Sigur Ros and the French band Magma, both of which sing in unknown or made-up languages – to jazz scatting, the of use nonsense lyrics, beatboxing, the percussive screams and growls of heavy metal singers, and the plaintive groans of the blues. I am interested particularly in how breath and voice, as well as silences and the cessation of the voice, and the interplay between vocal and instrumental expressions, are used in these non-linguistic musical utterances to convey meaning, or ineffability (that which is beyond language), through a variety of techniques. Guiding these explorations is an essay by Jewish theologian Regina Schwartz, who claims that all ‘instrumental’ uses of language – when language is employed to ‘describe’ or to ‘capture’ meaning – contain an inherent violence that is a betrayal of the gift of language and its purpose.  Language, according to Schwartz, has been given for praise and lament, and it is the use of language as such that enables true conversation and communion to occur. I will demonstrate how certain artists and their musical compositions embody or perform this sacramental quality of sound/language through non-lexical vocal utterances. In dialogue with theorists like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Black theologian James Cone, I will examine these musical utterances as a form of apophatic or negative theology, playing at the borders of meaning itself. In the end, I will posit that particular musical expressions that fall into this category are best understood as a form of prayer.


Session Two

Sunday 11th September, 10.45 a.m– 12.15 p.m.

1. Robert A. Davis (University of Glasgow, robert.davis@glasgow.ac.uk)

Maternity, Territory and Theology in the Medieval English Lullaby Carol

The medieval Nativity Carol represents one of the great if insufficiently recognised repositories of medieval literary and musical culture.  Spanning elite and vernacular expression, and extending comprehensively from (controversial) quasi-liturgical performance to the repertoire of popular song, the Nativity Carol enshrines vital patterns of cultural representation and change across the planes of differential gender roles, mother-child relations, constructions of infancy, human and divine, and shifting paradigms of theological understanding and devotional insight. Attending specifically to its sub-genre of the lullaby carol, this paper offers a series of close readings of both musically notated and exclusively literary Nativity Carols intended to show how the deep structure of the lullaby carol tests and extends the intersecting boundaries of maternity, territory and theology in medieval Christian society. The rise of the lullaby carol in the 14th and 15th centuries both reflects and interrogates changing conceptions of maternal responsibility, the revaluation of the mother-child dyad, and the agency of women in the tasks of harmonising baby sleep with increasingly regulated circadian and working cycles. At the same time, the material concerns of the lullaby carols routinely draw upon the narrative substance and symbolism of the Infancy Gospels to chart what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘reterritorialisation’ of feminine space, boldly mapping and questioning the parameters of female empowerment, affective interdependence and vulnerability before frequently minatory patriarchal influences.  Finally, from out of their performative, sung reimagining of the pericopes of the Nativity tableaux, the lullaby carols participate in a wider revisionist theology of the humanity of the Christ-child and his mother––with far-reaching consequences for Western piety and aesthetics––in which the intimate emotional zones of domestic experience are accorded a new humanist moral and doctrinal centrality.

2. Nils Holger Petersen (University of Copenhagen, nhp@teol.ku.dk)

Papageno and the Sublime? Theology in Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791)

In recent scholarship as well as in modern performances of Mozart’s and Schikaneder’s Die Zauberflöte (1791), not least in Jan Assmann’s important 2005 book and later articles about the opera, there is little doubt that notions of sublimity are seen as connected to the world of Sarastro and the successful attempts of Tamino and Pamina to prevail under the trials of Sarastro’s priestly brotherhood. Indeed, in Assmann’s book, Papageno is viewed as a person of less importance to the overall message of the opera, and, similarly, in many performances of the opera, Papageno is constructed as only a humorous figure, not to be taken too serious. However, not only the text of the famous duet “Pa-Pa-Pa…,” in the second act of the opera between Papageno and Papagena, in which the words “it is the highest of all feelings” (“es ist das höchste der Gefühle”) are included, but also the music of the duet and the whole dramaturgy of the opera deserve a somewhat different interpretation. In discussion with Assmann’s and others’ points of view, I shall present a reading of the figure of Papageno and of Mozart’s and Schikaneder’s entire work in which Papageno is a crucial element in the construction of overall meaning of the opera, thus overcoming what often appears as an incongruous dichotomy between serious sublimity and childish (albeit charming) comedy. Together these two sides of the opera, supplementing each other musically as well as in terms of the story line, form a musico-theological message, possibly more necessary today than ever before.


Postcolonial Literature

Helga Ramsey-Kurz (University of Innsbruck, helga.ramsey-kurz@uibk.ac.at) and

Ileana Dimitriu (University of KwaZulu-Natal, dimitriu@ukzn.ac.za)

Postcolonial discourse is traditionally concerned with identities in states of liminality. One of its key objects has always been to give visibility to human existences on the periphery of political and economic empires and to restore their histories by validating their cultures, notably their literatures and belief systems.In recent years, postcolonial discussions of the marginalised Other and its ‘place/space’ in the world have changed under the impact of a growing interest in the characteristic elasticity and porosity of borders as a factor enforcing the fluidity of identities manifest especially when borders are imposed, transgressed, or demolished in the wake of colonial conquest, postcolonial assimilation, or anti-colonial rebellion. Contributors to this panel are invited to respond to literary and other artistic explorations of conflicts ensuing from impositions and contestations of borders by colonialist or anti-colonial forces. Contributions may also engage with imaginative deconstructions of the very notion of borders, and constructions of trans-border relations founded on an ethics sufficiently future-oriented to facilitate emancipation from the colonial past and forge a condition truly post-colonial.

Session One

Friday 9th September, 1.30 – 3.00 p.m.

1.     Helga Ramsey-Kurz (University of Innsbruck, helga.ramsey-kurz@uibk.ac.at)

Flowers, Fences, Faeces: The Frontier in David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon Revisited From a Central European Perspective


Remembering Babylon (1993) by David Malouf is probably one of the most famous works of Australian fiction. Set mainly in outback Queensland of the 1860s and chronicling the usurpation of Aboriginal land by European settlers, the novel has plausibly been labelled an archetypical frontier novel. Such reading has, however, been complicated by the fact that the conflict recounted in the novel is not one between native and settler Australians, but between a young English man who has lived with an Aboriginal tribe for most of his life and the community of settlers to which he returns one day shouting, as he wants to climb their fence, ‘Do not shoot […] I am a B-b-british object!’ The Manichean binarism of European aggressor and aboriginal victim is thus effectively dislodged by David Malouf, and it will be troubled further by my own reading of his novel as I will re-examine Remembering Babylon from the perspective of a literary critic based in central Europe and finding her understanding of colonisation transformed under the impact of the current refugee crisis and the challenges this crisis is posing to continental assumptions of borders and the common weal(th) they are supposed to protect. In reading the many dividing lines in Remembering Babylon against these challenges I will also ask the question why, of all characters in the novel, it is a minister and a nun whom Malouf has cross borders to try and create such a common wealth against all odds of liminality.

2. Clare Brown (University of Glasgow, c.brown.6@research.gla.ac.uk)

Buildings as Borders: Tales from the Missionary Threshold

In Victorian foreign mission, buildings played a significant physical and symbolic role. For British missionaries evangelising in central and southern Africa, an exemplary model of this is found in the structure and presentation of the home. This paper explores instances of these houses as interfaces between missionary and indigenous lives, and between Africa and Britain. The missionary house functioned as a token of Christian presence and progress in Africa, intended through design, construction and use to embody an ideal of missionary activity. Yet the reality was at times at odds with the image: permanence could be an illusion, dwellings and dwellers having a tentative – sometimes tenuous – presence in the land. Visual representations of European dwellings were also employed to construct a paradigm of western civilisation versus African heathenism. Again, however, the lines could be illusory, the images brought to Africa being themselves ephemeral and degradable, creating a dissonance between message and medium. Finally, indigenous homes are considered as places of physical and symbolic import, drawing particularly on examples from Malawi. Often dismissed through the missionary misperception that these were not worthy of the appellation ‘home,’ they were characterised as dark, primitive and transitory. Missionaries intended that buildings should delineate Christian spaces, the threshold marking a border between heathen and Christian. Yet buildings also acted as borders between understandings, places that could facilitate the exchange of knowledge or obscure it, create permeable spaces, or act as barriers to constructive engagement.

3. Asis De (Mahishadal Raj College, ademrc@gmail.com)

Lives Beyond the Line: Tribal Cultural Space in Hansda Sowvendra Sekhar’s The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey

‘Just like me, just like me’— are the words of Rupi Baskey, the central character, with which ends Sowvendra Sekhar Hansda’s debut novel The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (2014), the first Anglophone fiction written by an Indian tribal writer, in which ethnic cultural inheritance is central, along with the changes and transformations which a tribal society witnesses through four generations. The ‘Janiform’ nature of the Indian tribal cultural space — one face looking forward and welcoming the changes brought about by the residual effects of colonization and then globalization, and the other face ruminating over their traditional and ethnic cultural traits, is an interesting point of investigation.  In the Indian scenario, there is always a mute mutual distrust active between the tribal people and the ‘mainstream’ Indians. The non-tribal ‘mainstream’ Indian often looks down upon the tribal people as low-caste ‘adivasi’, whereas the tribal people find the non-tribal as ‘diku’, a rather derogatory term meaning ‘exploiter’. Therefore, issues of ‘conflict’ and ‘border’ are ever present in any study of the tribal life and their socio-cultural presentation in literary texts. Again, issues like witchcraft, the role of the ‘herbalist’ and even the issue of freedom of tribal women, make it clear that the tribal people still live within a clearly bordered space. But with globalization, this scenario is undergoing a rapid ‘transition,’ the porosity of the border becoming ever more visible. How the epistemological shifts in education and health consciousness enrich a tribal Santhal society and transform their tribal cultural space, is the focus of this paper. I would also discuss issues of witchcraft and other socio-religious practices in the indigenous cultural space, which lie behind the ‘mysterious ailment’ of the central character: female characters stay central to the narrative — as victim of ailment, as well as its cause.

2.     Casey Aldridge (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, caldrid6@uncc.edu)

The Borders of the Borderlands: Heaven, Hell, and Utopia in the Settler-Colonial Regime

Considering the way in which settler-colonial projects have been imbued with religious and utopian imagery and language, this paper critically evaluates Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, as well as the sociopolitical contexts of apartheid South Africa, the United States-Mexico border, and the occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel. In particular, this paper examines how settler-colonialism has constructed its aims, ends, and justifications upon a rhetoric of the ‘Kingdom of God,’ and how the reservation, the township, the militarized border or wall, and the prison have been employed in the settler-colonial states of the United States, South Africa, and Israel to secure the settler project and utopia. This paper draws on Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope and understandings of utopia, both in the theoretical and in the real, considered within Patrick Wolfe’s framework of settler-colonialism. In this paper I seek to demonstrate the theoretical contentions of Anzaldua’s ideas of shadow-beast and borderland when set against a Pauline Christian-theological framework of ‘the world passing away,’ and to consider how both Anzaldua’s and Paul’s methods reconcile or fail to reconcile contradictions between sacred and profane. The paper ends in an attempt to rescue utopia and the Kingdom of God from settler-colonialism, articulating an alternate and non-exclusionary utopian imagination not predicated on land, ethnicity, or religion.

Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.

1.     Fiona Darroch (University of Stirling, fiona.darroch@stir.ac.uk)

Crafting Culture: A Reading of Chiminanada Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

Chiminanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest novel Americanah (Fourth Estate: London, 2013) is, at its heart, a love story; school sweethearts distanced by their individual searches for higher education and economic stability. Remarkably this book is not only an immensely readable love story, but an essential commentary on middle class Nigeria, economic migration, the notion of race as a western invention, and the notion that women’s bodies are often the site on which inevitable political, economic and cultural conflicts and senses of belonging are played out. Much of the story is told in retrospect while the narrator, Ifemelu has her hair braided in a salon in a suburb of Princeton before returning to Nigeria after 15 years living in the United States. This is a story about borders, belonging and the so-often untold stories that lie in the cracks and fissures between the borders. It is in the liminal in-between spaces that the beauty, the hope, the creativity can thrive. It is also from the liminal spaces, so expertly exposed by Adichie in Americanah, that a discourse of culture and religiosity can emerge, a discourse that responds to a complex history of people in transition and movement across the world, and particularly across the triangulated space of Africa, America and Europe. In this paper, I will offer a reading of Americanah, along with Adichie’s other works, that is particularly concerned with how contested notions of culture are played out on women’s (often suffering) bodies.

2. Clare Louise Radford (University of Glasgow, c.radford.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

‘The Desert is Our Neighbour’: Ambiguity as a Feminist Postcolonial Ethic of Encounter in Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox

This paper explores a feminist postcolonial ethic of ambiguity as an approach to literary texts and subjects through engagement with Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Mr Fox. Oyeyemi, a British Nigerian writer, stages a series of short stories in Mr Fox, retellings that draw on sources from European fairytale to Yoruba culture, to explore the ambiguities of encountering and representing others in literature. The first section briefly draws on the work of Mayra Rivera and Kamala Visweswaran to frame a feminist postcolonial ethic that seeks to make ambiguous the defined representations of encounters with others. The second section highlights two moments ‘in the sand’ in Mr Fox as a way of exploring Oyeyemi’s ethic of ambiguity for characters and texts. In the first, Mary Foxe stands on the sands, preparing to swim out to the lighthouse, an act that may resolve her liminal status; she dwells somewhere on the borders of fiction and reality. In the second, an unnamed Muslim widow contemplates the threat of being taken to the desert neighbouring her village and being punished for speaking with a Western occupying solider, a dialogue spurred by her young daughter’s contestation of the soldiers’ presence in the village. This enables discussion in the third section of Oyeyemi’s treatment of the ambiguous possibilities of literature: literature may enforce and legitimate oppressive gendered and colonial encounters, and it may also enable a redrawing of identities. The paper offers opportunities to discuss Oyeyemi’s use of metafiction and retelling as feminist postcolonial strategies, and whether such strategies, whilst being subversive, are able to sufficiently facilitate liberative encounters, given their reliance on existing colonial and gendered literary norms.

3. Ruth Minott Egglestone (ruth.egglestone@btopenworld.com)

Honour is the Subject of my Story: Thinking about Jiizas and Ceazaa from a Jamaican Point-of-View

Notwithstanding a latent, and sometimes blatant, tendency towards aggression encouraged by ambitious Ceazzas, the country of Jamaica is characteristically indomitable, gritty, and resolute, punching well above its weight on the international stage. Dignity and respect become prized qualities within a social structure which still uses a studiously nuanced skin-tone continuum of shades of brown to gauge each individual’s worth. Such prejudice has been further institutionalised through an education system which privileges mastery of English (the language of the head) over Patwa (the language of the heart). Profoundly comforting and yet deeply disturbing in its detail, the story of the woman caught in the midst of adultery shows how sensitive the radical love of Jesus was to the reality of shame. Stooping adeptly at the crossroads of religion, literature and culture energizes the discussion of honour, and its antithesis shame, within a national psyche that has enjoyed a long and socially vigorous Christian tradition. Moreover, translations of the literary canon, like Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment (2012) and Julius Caesar in Jamaican English (2013), become political statements even as they extend the compass of the ontological conversation.  It is easy for Jamaicans to say like Cassius, ‘Well, honour is the subject of my story’ but the use of Di Jamiekan Langwij brings the Great Tradition down to earth. We are reminded that the radical love of Jiizas brings such honesty into very painful life experiences that it forces us to develop respect for each other as human beings – faults, foibles, failings and all. The balancing act between respectability and reputation which unfolds in the demise of the great Julius Ceasar and the grounded grace of Jesus Christ’s redemptive encounter with the desperately humiliated woman, model the complexities of rising above objectification as we analyse the root of empowerment from a Jamaican point-of-view.

4. Hanna Weber (hannah.hiscock@gmail.com)

Lines in the Snow: Names and Narratives in Thomas King

Northrop Frye argued that ‚the real Canada is an ideal with nobody in it’ and F.R. Scott called Canada an ‘inarticulate Arctic.’ While images of wilderness and nothingness are ubiquitous in the Canadian canon, contemporary indigenous literatures challenge the idea of Canada as an inherently empty space and illuminate conflicts of postcolonialism and identity. Externally, the Canada has been conceived of as a space of refuge for migrants of the last century; internally, it has been prone to the subversive techniques of renaming – a technique mirrored in the political sphere as the unceded urban territories begin to be acknowledged as such. In Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water, ‘dog’ becomes ‘God’ and his ego runs rampant through the rural towns and reserves alike – this separation from an indigenous identity produces both collision and tension in King’s works. This paper will analyze the literary frontier between settlers and indigenous peoples in selected works of King, focusing specifically on the juxtaposition of indigenous notions of naming and storytelling with linear and fixed settler narratives. I will look at how the blurring of the line between these communities is used as a tool to push back against colonial-erasure, and how a renewed discussion of difference can make space for occluded narratives.

Session Three

Saturday 10th September, 2.45 – 4.15 p.m.

1. Ileana Dimitriu (University of KwaZulu-Natal, dimitriu@ukzn.ac.za)

In Times of Transition: Faith, Unfaith and the Pitfalls of Utopia in JM Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg

I offer a re-reading of JM Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg (1994) by which I seek to answer the question: Why return to this particular novel today? In pursuing the question, I engage with intersections between religious and political reference, aiming to locate the novel in the current international climate of religious-cum-political demagoguery and conviction. Central to my analysis is the figure of the ‘angry young man’ forged in radicalised political times, on the cusp between faith and unfaith, utopia and delusion, revolutionary fervour and collective amnesia. Published in 1994, the year of the first democratic elections in South Africa, the novel is set – paradoxically – in Tsarist Russia of the 1860s, against a background of anarchist movements threatening the survival of the state. Many critics are still puzzled by Coetzee’s motivation:  Why another century/country when all eyes were focused on the ‘new’ South Africa?  I argue that, in retrospect, we may appreciate Coetzee’s uncanny prescience:  a vision that evokes the temper of the world today – a world of social and racial aggravation that is periodically rocked by random acts of terrorism and perversely spectacular violence. Drawing on key criticism on the link between terrorism and religious/ millenarian promises of salvation, my focus will be on Coetzee’s fictional representation of a fanatic’s worldview with its misguided beliefs in destruction as foundationally ‘indispensable’ to a higher-order life purpose; to martyrdom as reward. The novel reads like a religious quest tale that distorts (perverts) the trajectory of the Christic quest, religious reference abounding in the insistence on salvation and betrayal, Jesus and Judas, redemption, atonement and resurrection. It is precisely at the intersection between forms of ‘salvation’ and ‘anarchy’ that The Master of Petersburg derives its stamp beyond its initial publication date.  Had Coetzee already seen beyond the greater optimism of the 1990s?

2. Jacqueline Jondot (University of Toulouse, jjondot@wanadoo.fr)

‘A Perfectly Flat Wilderness of Sand’: Carl Gibeily’s Crisis-Crossing Lines in Blueprint for a Prophet

Carl Gibeily’s novel, Blueprint for a Prophet (1997), begins in ‘a perfectly flat wilderness of golden sand’, sand on which lines will be drawn the better to be shifted as the narrative of wars in Lebanon lead one to the other, shifting the lines of identity or loyalty. This political-fiction narrative, going across temporal, spatial and/or linguistic lines, explores the interaction between past empires and present and even future imperialistic enterprises in a country at war, divided by demarcation lines. Shifts across times and spaces draw and move lines between Ancient Rome, Carthage, Britain, America and Lebanon, between ancient religions, Islam, Christianity, between politics and science, lines which find an expression in the saturated language of Carl Gibeily who makes ancient and modern languages coincide when contemporary history keeps their heirs apart. (‘It is therefore coincidental that the Roman root [Fides/faith] offers itself for service in the Middle East [Fidei/fedayeen]’). This paper will try to explore the lines of division pervading a world on the verge of (self-) destruction and see whether a reprieve could be found among these kaleidoscopically criss/crisis-crossing  lines.

3. Grace Whistler (University of York, grace.whistler@york.ac.uk)

Blood and Sand: Fragmented Selves in Daoud and Camus

I’ve learned to speak this language, and to write in it too … I’m going to do what was done in this country after Independence: I’m going to take the stones from the old houses the colonists left behind, remove them one by one, and build my own house, my own language

– Kamel Daoud, Meursault, Contre-Enquête


Since publication in 2013, Daoud’s Meursault, Contre-Enquête has received considerable attention among scholars and general readers alike. It has been approached from a variety of angles – predominantly postcolonialist readings (though naturally Camus scholars in general have taken an interest) but thus far the nuanced and visceral dialogue that Daoud has created between the colonised and the coloniser has yet to be given full recognition. Guardian journalist, Nick Fraser, even suggested that the novel reveals an underlying ‘white racism’ which informs Camus’ L’Etranger – an analysis which doesn’t do justice to either work. Meursault, Contre-Enquête is in conversation with Camus, not only his works, but the man himself. The novel explores notions of borders relating to identity, religion, nationality and race, and most importantly for this paper, it demonstrates the power of narrative praxis when it comes to constructing and comprehending our notions of the self and other. Not only is this the story of a man learning to understand his supposed enemy through engagement with his writings, it is also the story of a man learning to understand himself through the activity of writing. The current interdisciplinary paper draws on recent research from philosophy of religion (Stump, Wandering in Darkness), philosophy of literature (Denham, Metaphor and Moral Experience, postcolonial literature and 20th century French theory, in order to analyse the movements and implications of this dialogue between the inseparable and irreconcilable elements of postcolonial identity.

4. William Purcell (Nanzan University, purcell@nanzan-u.ac.jp)

Changing Places: Migration, Christianity and English-African Role Reversals

in Freddy Macha’s ‘The Drunk and the Preacher’

In the closing lines of Freddy Macha’s story, ‘The Drunk and the Preacher,’ protagonist Renatus finds himself under arrest for harassment. A Christian preacher and refugee in London from Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Renatus’s offense was repeatedly inviting a panhandling street drunkard named Raymond, the son of a wealthy man, to liberate himself from alcohol by accepting Christian fellowship. As the police lead the handcuffed Renatus away, he begs to be allowed to take along ‘his only precious possession: the Bible’ (14). The story thus turns on an ironic role reversal between African and European as evangelizer and evangelized that reflects the state of Christianity in many contemporary Western and African societies. Since the mid twentieth century sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed the most dramatic growth in Christianity of any region on the planet. In the process, Africans have both taken control across the continent of the mainline Churches planted by Western missionaries and have also founded some 7,000 indigenous Christian dominations. Reflecting this shifting center of Christianity to the Global South, since the 1980s there has also been a great migration of African missionaries to an increasingly secularized and unchurched Europe and (to a lesser extent) North America that are becoming materialistic, narcissistic, hedonistic, and less receptive—if not hostile—to the Christian message. This presentation will discuss the shifting role of evangelizer and evangelized dramatized in this story against the historic background of the colonial project and its implications for the future of the global Church.


Religion and Modernity

Erik Borgman (Tilburg University, e.p.n.m.borgman@tilburguniversity.edu)

It could be argued that the intellectual project of modernity is characterized by its focus on the proper respect for the boundaries between the disciplines, approaches, and logics. In theology in particular this is played out as a focus on the proper distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘reason’, ‘religious’ and ‘secular’. At the same time, literary modernism explicitly tried to blur the distinctions between literary genres, types of writing, high and low culture etc. There were attempts to provide a new plausibility for faith and theology making use of strategies related to modernist literature.

Session One

Friday 9th September, 1.30-3.00 p.m.

1.     William P. Boyce (University of Virginia, wpb5jd@virginia.edu)

Transgressing the Boundaries of Faith in Luther’s Galatians: A Theological Realignment


2.     Iben Damgaard (University of Copenhagen, iba@teol.ku.dk)

Insight from the Outside (on Nietzsche and Kierkegaard)

The traditional distinction between being inside and outside a religious tradition gained a new emphasis in the critical project of modernity concerned with delimiting the boundaries between disciplines and between the religious and the secular. Yet, two of the major thinkers of modernity, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, became precursors of the postmodern precisely by their blurring the established borders between literature, philosophy and theology and between the religious and the secular in their ironic polyphonic play with voices from outside and inside Christianity, voices of attack and voices of defense in ways that both explicitly and implicitly engage intertextually with biblical writings. When Jesus in the Gospel of Mark claims that the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to the insiders but “for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive” (Mark 4:11), the biblical text strongly asserts the binary opposition of insiders and outsiders, yet it is also ironically subverted throughout the text, when the outsiders (e.g. the demons) express insight into Jesus’ true identity, which is constantly misunderstood by the insiders (the disciples). I will argue that both Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s writings can be interpreted as palimpsests writings that dialogically interact with the ambiguous role of the inside-outside borderline in the underlying biblical texts. I will seek to show that Nietzsche uses an outside figure such as Anti-Christ to point towards insights into possible more life affirming reinterpretations of Christianity in ways that have more in common with the ironic play with inside and outside voices in Kierkegaard’s existential reformulation of Christianity, than is usually assumed, and I thereby want to challenge and discuss the standard interpretation of Kierkegaard’s internal critique of Christianity as opposed to Nietzsche’s external critique of Christianity.

3.     Christine H. Chou (Fu Jen Catholic University, christine.h.chou@mail.fju.edu.tw)

The Modern ‘Desert’ and the Self: Rethinking the Worldly and the Religious through Arendt and Kierkegaard

In the context of modern secularism, with the decline of faith in God, there seems to be irreconcilable divergence between the views of reality and human existence based on principles of either worldliness or religiousness. It is thus tremendously intriguing to think over the possibility of negotiating such categories of seeming contradiction as ‘love of the world’ and ‘love of God/eternity’. This paper attempts to bring into conversation the conflicting perspectives of Hannah Arendt, whose philosophy of politics is premised on recognizing the truth of reality as ‘human plurality’ and ‘worldliness’, and SØren Kierkegaard, whose Christian philosophy of existence is featured by prioritizing singular individuals’ ‘religious inwardness’. Through reconsidering these two modern thinkers’ contradictory assertions about the hope for humanity—the Arendtian political promises grounded on love of the world versus the Kierkegaardian religious promises rooted in love of God, this study seeks to inquire whether such promises and loves are absolutely incompatible or may actually co-exist within the self and for the world. To look more thoroughly into their different propositions, this study is oriented to re-estimating Arendt’s metaphoric conception of ‘the modern growth of worldlessness’ as a desert-world and her negative attribution of Kierkegaard’s project as one of ‘escapism’ (particularly referring to his concerns with doubt and self) that serves to ‘make a desert out of the world’. Ultimately, it can be argued that between Arendt’s worldly and political agenda for transforming the modern desert-world and Kierkegaard’s religious project of what Arendt terms ‘the flight from the world to the self’ lies, in some sense, a common spirit of modern secularity. This, however, does not mean they are essentially congenial thinkers of modernity, as one shares while the other turns away from St. Augustine’s manifesto— that we are creatures in the world but not of the world.


Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 9.00-10.30 a.m.

1.     Caitríona Cassidy (University of Glasgow, c.cassidy.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

Ionesco’s Absurd Walls: Confronting the Border between Faith and Reason in Le Solitaire

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus explains that man ‘feels within him his longing for silence and reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.’ For Ionesco (as quoted by Esslin in The Theatre of the Absurd), the absurd is ‘that which is devoid of purpose…Cut off from his religious, metaphysical and transcendental roots, man is lost: all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.’ Yet, far from using the absurd as a reason to give up, Ionesco continues to search for these roots, embracing the confrontation that Camus writes about in The Myth of Sisyphus. But while Camus’s absurd man rejects religion as an absurd leap, Ionesco continues to search for an ultimate truth throughout his life in the form of an elusive hidden God. Thus Ionesco stands out from his contemporaries in continuing to turn to religion in an attempt to confront the problems raised by modernity. This paper aims to explore these themes in relation to Ionesco’s lesser known work, and only novel Le Solitaire (The Hermit), written in 1973. The narrator of Le Solitaire exemplifies Ionesco’s confrontation of the borders between faith and reason: this yearning for religious, metaphysical and transcendental roots, despite the lack of evidence of these roots in his everyday life.

2.     M. Cooper Harriss  (Indiana University, charriss@indiana.edu)

That Shakespeherian Rag: Eliot, Ellison, and the Cultural Divide

The Waste Land’s role in convincing young Ralph Ellison to abandon his trumpet and pursue literature is now a chestnut of literary history. Ellison would, of course, proceed to draw from Eliot’s work liberally in his novels and criticism, denominating Eliot as an ‘ancestor’ even at the expense of his fellow African-American literary figures Richard Wright and James Baldwin—mere ‘relatives’ by comparison in Ellison’s estimation. Frequently this association serves to bolster preconceived notions surrounding Ellison and Eliot as authors, critics, and men of letters in the twentieth century—concerned with myth, arcane references, and modes of high culture; critics renowned for cultivations of snobbishly exclusive taste promoted by inflexible and even reactionary political agendas that eschewed the progressivism that surrounded them in their respective branches of modernism. This reputation finds its apogee in the adage of Eliot as “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion’. Such an adage, I argue, does not do justice to Eliot’s willingness to ambiguate modernity’s cultural divides in literature, politics, and religion—a point bolstered through careful attention to Ellison’s Eliot. This paper reads Eliot and Ellison comparatively as they negotiate the high/low cultural divide with specific attention to how such “boundary work” elucidates in them a common theology of culture rooted in aspects of the particular and the universal. Reading Eliot through Ellison highlights Eliot’s overlooked affinity for the “low,” while reading Ellison through Eliot illuminates Ellison’s own unique classicism as an African-American writer invested in vernacular forms.


Religious and Interreligious Studies

Alana M. Vincent (University of Chester, alana.vincent@gmail.com)

The purpose of this panel is to consider the boundaries between religious systems, and between religion and non-religion. What theoretical and/or methodological challenges arise from considering these boundaries as porous and malleable? How does the lived reality of multiple religious belonging prompt alterations to the theological imaginary (as materialised in art and literature)? What role does heterodoxy play in the construction, self-understanding, and portrayal of religious communities?

Session One

Friday 9th September, 1.30 – 3.00 p.m.

1. Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College, ziolkowe@lafayette.edu)

Many-Titled One; Elephant and Blind Men; Hand and Fingers; Father, Children, and Precious Ring: Classic Metaphors of Religious Pluralism

My interest in the topic of ‘religious and inter-religious studies’ generally, of ‘the boundaries between religious systems, and between religion and non-religion’ in particular, is longstanding—extending from before the appearance my edited volume A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the First World’s Parliament of Religions (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), up to the monographic manuscript I am now completing on the history of the famed parable of the three rings, about the interrelationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The ISRLC conference paper I propose grows out of that manuscript, and focuses upon several classic analogies or metaphors that have emerged from, and spread among, different societies around the world to account for religious pluralism. The earliest such metaphor is the Ṛgvedic notion of the ‘One’ to whom ‘sages give many a title,’ which underlies most later Brahmanic/Hindu explanations of the multiplicity of understandings of truth, or the plurality of religions. A second, is the parable of the elephant and the blind men, which putatively originated in South Asia (e.g., as reflected in a variant ascribed to the Buddha himself), but spread elsewhere (e.g., with a variant ascribed to the mystic Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi in Anatolia). A third analogy is that of the hand and its multiple fingers, used by the Mongol Khan, Möngke, in rebuking a Franciscan Christian missionary for the latter’s perceived Christian chauvinism. A fourth analogy is the parable of the three rings, most famously narrated in works of Boccaccio and G. E. Lessing, but found in numerous earlier variants as well. This paper considers these four metaphors/analogies in the religio-historical contexts in which they were originally used, and subjects them to comparative analysis.

2. Mark Godin (University of Chester, markagodin@gmail.com‎)

Negotiating Difference, One Line at a Time: The Presbyterian Church in Canada and Aboriginal Spiritual Practices

Since 1994, The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) has been engaged in a process of reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples, stemming from confessing the harm the denomination did as a partner in running residential schools. A substantial element in this process has been a re-evaluation of the Church’s theological stance towards Aboriginal spiritual practices, summarised in a statement from 2015. My paper will explore the complex intersections of lines drawn by this ‘Statement on Aboriginal Spiritual Practices,’ examining how they construct and reinforce understandings about otherness and religion, and reflecting on the theological indeterminacy of who and what belongs. At first glance, the statement strives primarily to erase rather than draw a line: prompted by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the PCC seeks to undo its own historical animosity towards Aboriginal spiritualities. The erasure of the old line allows the possibility of Christians learning from others, and of Aboriginal church members bringing traditional practices into Christian worship. In doing this, however, the work of reconciliation ends up re-inscribing lines of difference. Trying to allay internal fears of syncretism, the statement relies on maintaining a line between spiritual practice and belief, treating practice as a matter of style rather than content so that it might be allowable within the church. This in turn springs from and reinforces belief that Christianity is separate from culture while other religions are bound to culture: thus, Aboriginal spiritual practices are more easily translatable into Christian understanding because they are cultural expressions. The resulting line inferred between spirituality and religion implies the continuation of a colonial hierarchy, with Aboriginal spiritualities bounded to people and place falling under ‘universal’ Christian religion. Still, the existence of the statement and related discussions hints at a much more complex reality of persons with dual belonging subverting the boundaries being inscribed.

3. John Barnett (Birmingham University, ‎johnbarnett255@gmail.com)

What New and Useful Understanding of Interreligious Relations Can Be Opened Up By Engaging in Regular Sikh Worship While Continuing As a Practicing Christian?

An artistic movement, albeit an organic and as-yet-unstated one, is forming. What are its key components? A deliberate unartiness: ‘raw’ material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional… Randomness, emotional urgency and intensity, reader/viewer participation; an overly literal tone, as if a reporter were viewing a strange culture; plasticity of form, pointillism, criticism as autobiography; self-reflexivity, self-ethnography, anthropological autobiography; a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real. This paper explores the liminal space between fiction and nonfiction in research-based monographs. I argue that in humanities-related disciplines, the facts of history and the truths of logic can form a platform for deeper, more creative, theopoetic. Since the enlightenment, academic writing has increasingly bent to the gravity of the hard-sciences. Today, the benchmark of contemporary humanities scholarship is the academic monograph, liberally sprinkled with footnotes and jargon to rival the sciences. But a change is coming. While the academic monograph will always have its place in the liberal arts academy, as David Shields notes, the ‘distinction between fiction and nonfiction’ is increasingly being exposed and exploited as little more than a line in the sand. The following is a theoretical and applied meditation on that dissolving line and the implications of its dissolution for the already blurry category of theological humanism. I begin by discussing a project about the deceased artist Jim Harvey, detailing how I assembled and used ‘real’ artefacts to create a fictional account of his life. I then turn to the theoretical underpinnings of this bricolage technique, appealing to the work of David Shields, Margot Singer, and Nicole Walker. I conclude with a meditation on the implications – and possibilities – of this method and its products for theological humanism, attending in particular to theological hermeneutics of Ricoeur and Gadamer.

Session Two

Saturday 11th September, 1.00-2.30 p.m.

1. Marius van Hoogstraten (University of Hamburg, marius.hoogstraten@uni-hamburg.de)

Religious Difference ‘Without’ Religion—Derrida and the Interreligious

In this paper, I will look at the relevance of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction for understanding religious difference in a way that does not rely on a category of ‘religion.’ I am inspired in this partly by theologians Kwok Pui Lan and John Thatamanil, who suggest problematizing ‘religion’ as a Western Christian construct is key to understanding both the power negotiations and philosophical difficulties at the heart of the construction of religious difference. In Derrida’s words, speaking of ‘religion’ is ‘already speaking Latin.’ In order to do this, I will draw on John D. Caputo’s reading of Derrida and religion as ‘religion without religion,’ by which he means a hope for the ‘undeconstructable’ in the midst of, but not exhausted by, the deconstructable dogmas, ethics and identities of a religious tradition. Deconstructing a concept or tradition, revealing it to be a construction and opening it up, happens for the sake of this transcendent aspiration which animates the tradition. This allows us to understand the deconstruction of the category of ‘religion,’—as well as the disturbance of religious identity by the experience of religious plurality—as an at heart hopeful and faithful endeavour. Though religious traditions are irreducible to a general category, their deconstructibility also means their translatability, which de-centres each individual tradition. The confrontation with religious difference is not a question of finding some gathering place that is ‘the same,’ but rather, to find that the address of faith (‘God’) is itself ‘not the same,’ that it can be said otherwise and is thus not fixed under the names and meanings we ascribe to it. However, I will finally suggest that Caputo’s approach would do well to adopt a stronger notion of constructed ‘religious difference’ from Kwok and Thatamanil.

2. Francesco Carpanini (University of Tartu, francesco.carpanini@ut.ee)

On the Threshold of Intercultural Textual Dialogue: Beyond Indifference Through François Jullien’s Spatial Metaphors

This paper addresses the research of a present-day philosopher and sinologist, by exploring the way in which he fosters what I call “intercultural textual dialogue” through particular spatial metaphors. François Jullien’s work unfolds a new understanding of intercultural dialogue beyond facile universalism and lazy relativism. I focus on the spatial metaphors that he employs in order to delve into his interdisciplinary research challenging the state of “traditional mutual indifference” between European and Chinese thought. On the one hand, I reconsider the philosophical issue of space and time in the twentieth-century European debate as a fundamental point of reference to shed light on the importance of space in Jullien’s terminology. On the other hand, I clarify how his cross-cultural movements between European and Chinese texts enable an original elaboration of spatial metaphors. Jullien’s work stems from the effort to dismantle the constrains belonging to the legacy of ancient Greek metaphysics. In this regard, Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction can be a viable tool only if it is redefined as an intercultural endeavour that largely relies on spatial metaphors. The attention to space in Jullien’s reflection comes from the twentieth-century French critique of the predominance of time over space where Michel Foucault’s problematization plays a central role. Thanks to Jullien’s specific re-examination of sinology, spatial metaphors also take shape as a means of crossing the lines of exclusion of non-Western thought in the departments of philosophy. These spatial metaphors, such as “between” and “distance,” allow a fruitful cross-cultural interaction that can challenge the ubiquity of the metaphysics of presence in Western reflection. In his perspective, fostering intercultural dialogue turns out to be a concern related to the placement of thoughts in front of each other in such a way that it creates a productive tension between them as cultural resources.

3. Geert Drieghe (University of Glasgow, geert.drieghe@gmail.com)

Boundary Issues between Religious and Non-Religious Worldviews: The Use of Aporetics in Worldview Theory

A primary desideratum for the Philosophy of Worldviews is the ability to deal with boundary issues between different worldviews, both religious and non-religious. Ninian Smart argued that we have at least three different tasks in this regard: 1. a structural analysis of worldviews, 2. a comparative analysis of worldviews, and 3. an elaboration of criteria for judgment. In my paper I will argue that such tasks are congruent with the study of Aporetics and the formulation of an aporetic method. Firstly, a structural analysis of worldviews is congruent with determining the initial plausibility ofworldview claims. Secondly, the comparative analysis of worldview claims, and the use of right-of-way criteria, is congruent with determining the final acceptability of claims. However, the use of criteria will be dependent on the kind of claims that we determined to exist through structural analysis. As George Lindbeck has shown (1984), religious doctrines can be interpreted on the basis of three lines of thought. How a claim is understood depends on what makes a claim acceptable, and different types of claims will have different conditions for what makes them acceptable. Thus, following Habermas (1984), we can identify conditions that settle objective truth, conditions that settle intersubjective rightness, and conditions that settle subjective authenticity. Such conditions are expressed in the aporetic process through the giving of ‘good reasons’ and through three different ‘superclasses’ of selection criteria. On the basis of this, we can differentiate between two different issues: the issue of conflicting worldview claims, and the issue of different epistemic stances. In order to settle the first issue we can take recourse to our Aporetic method. In order to settle the second issue, we can take recourse to an Orientational Pluralism which applies pluralism to the plausibility and exclusivism to the acceptability of claims.


The Scottish Religious Bestseller (Scottish Religious Cultures Special Session)

Friday 9th September, 1.30-3.00 p.m.

Focusing on the legacy of religion in Scotland, the Scottish Religious Cultures network is a multi-institutional collaboration financed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s research networking scheme. Due to its fundamental role in shaping Scottish culture, religion continues to affect the nation on a day-to-day basis. We seek to deal directly with the role of religion as a formative and yet divisive force in Scottish society and highlight its positive and negative functions in the development of the nation’s culture. The network is committed to disseminating the very best research on this subject through public lectures, conference and publications. The network also publishes a book series with Edinburgh University Press entitled ‘Scottish Religious Cultures: Historical Perspectives’. The

1. Scott Spurlock (University of Glasgow, scott.spurlock@research.gla.ac.uk)

Robert Barclay’s Apology

It may be difficult to apply the term bestseller to a printed text of the early modern period, however, Robert Barclay’s An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678) deserves special consideration. While not being consumed in the quantities of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or Milton’s Pilgrim Progress, Barclay’s work of systematic theology went through nearly 50 editions printed in Scotland, England, Ireland and North America and appeared in seven different languages, including Arabic. Barclay’s work lacked the literary complexity of Milton and the dramatic storytelling of Foxe, instead he offered a theologically astute and spiritually reflective plea for ‘true Christian divinity’. This paper will explore why this remarkable text generated so much interest and led to personal correspondence between the author and Princess Elizabeth of the Palatinate.

2.     Deryl Davis (University of Glasgow, d.davis.1@research.gla.ac.uk)

‘The Great Calvinistic Poem’:  Reception History and Robert Pollok’s The Course of Time

Almost unknown today, Robert Pollok’s nearly 10,000-line religious epic, ‘The Course of Time’, was one of the best-selling poems of the early nineteenth century. Published to immediate acclaim in 1827, the poem remained a bestseller for almost fifty years, capturing audiences with its unique combination of High Romantic sensibility and Calvinist piety. Drawing on Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Pollok – a Scotsman and a recent divinity graduate of the University of Glasgow – sought to justify divine providence and counter contemporary challenges to biblical authority, traditional Christian dogma, and the reality of heaven, hell, and final judgment. My paper examines the literary and religious sources of ‘The Course of Time’ and explores the reasons behind the poem’s remarkable success in the nineteenth century and its near-disappearance in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

3. Gerard Carruthers (University of Glasgow, gerard.carruthers@research.gla.ac.uk)

Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The book that launched Muriel Spark to international fame continued what her previous five novels had done in exploring religious truth and its relevance to the modern world. Spark’s achievement in The Prime of Miss Jean is all the more remarkable as it appeared against a preference in the early 60s for ‘kitchen-sink’ quotidian realism, in fiction, theatre and film. Spark’s novel would go on to work successfully within all three of these modes, peddling an experimental layer that brought together post-modern technique and theological interest. This paper, partly drawing upon new archival work, explores the elements of Spark’s quantum leap to become one of the world’s best-known writers.  It particularly examines Spark’s use of historical mode, realistic disjunction and a demonic voice in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Finally, it speculates on how such a genuinely unsettling novel has become such a mainstream text, both in academe and across such a wide, international popular readership.

Theological Humanism

Daniel Boscaljon (University of Iowa, daniel-boscaljon@uiowa.edu)

This year, the Theological Humanism panel will focus on ‘lines’ of fragility, impermanence, and transistorizes in three general ways:

  1. Examine a theological anthropology centred on fragility. What lines in the sand usefully determine human identities in secular situations, and how does the ‘god’ alter these boundaries? How might using ‘lines in the sand’ as a model of (post) secular human identity allow an openness to encounters with theophanies? We welcome works that build on Klemm, Schweiker, Nancy, Ricoeur, Kearny, Vattimo, Milbank, and Marion to address the stable fragility of contemporary life.
  2. Examine ‘lines’ through liminal art forms or processes. Papers might show how such temporary, fragile art presents a model for future theologies. Alternatively, papers may use an extant theological framework to expose the theological depth of this work. Whether a model of god, human, or art, these papers would offer interdisciplinary explorations of cultural theology.
  3. Examine political theological humanism by discussing problems of injustice and borders that haunt our contemporary world. Whether this invokes the political dimension of ecology, economics, enframement, or estrangement, we such paper would reveal how theological humanism provides a unique possibility for resolving such problems.

Session One

Friday 9th September, 3.30 – 5.00 p.m.

1.     Piotr Sawczyński (Jagiellonian University in Kraków, piotr.sawczynski@gmail.com)

Fragility of the Messianic in Walter Benjamin’s Gnostic Works

It has often been remarked that the twentieth century thinking, secularized as it was, witnessed a productive intersection of the profane (philosophy) and the sacred (theology). I would like to take off from this to argue that the intersection can especially invigorate the problematic category of the human subject. In the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin offered one of the most promising analyses of the subject in terms of ‘messianic fragility’. I argue here that his thinking of the subject is to a large extent influenced by Gershom Scholem’s conceptual matrix, itself developed from the modern Kabbalistic metaphysics of Isaac Luria and his followers. Assuming that Benjamin’s messianic works might be read through the prism of Lurianic Kabbalah, I argue that (1) Benjamin’s idea of human subjectivity is worked out through a conception of fragile messianic action which (2) is dialectically related to the concept of the nothing. This peculiar combination of subject-making action and the nothing is clearly inspired by Luria’s core concepts of tsimtsum, shevirat ha-kelim and tiqqun, closely related to the Judaic axis of creation, revelation and redemption. Benjamin, who owes much to Scholem’s ‘minimal theology’, reads the concepts through the prism of language and seems to treat them as ambiguous emancipatory gestures which aim at thinking subjectivity beyond power relations. To show this, I will analyse figures of the messianic in some of Benjamin’s works where gnostic inspirations are the most comprehensive. I will show that, according to Benjamin, fragile gestures of emancipation ought to repeat the dialectical, cosmological trajectory sketched by Luria, which results in neither reconciliation, nor apocalyptic violence, but cunning messianic tricks that challenge the structure of oppressive immanence.

2. Joyce Rondaij (Protestant Theological University, j.rondaij@pthu.nl)

‘Humanity’ and ‘God’ Beyond the Limits. A Postmodern Theological Reading of the Work of Primo Levi

Primo Levi opens his testimony of the imprisonment in Auschwitz with a poem: ‘Consider whether this is a man, who labours in the mud (..) Consider whether this is a woman Without hair and without name’. His readers get confronted with the face of a man and a woman who are ultimate border figures, the Muselmanner, who seem to have moved beyond the state of the humane. The encounter with these fragile human beings have challenged Levi to rethink fixed concepts like ‘humanity’ and ‘ethics’. In Levi’s work there is a tension between ontology (the survival of the I) and ethics (letting yourself be disturbed by the face of the other). This tension is not to be resolved, but can be a source for a fragile understanding of what it means to be human. In this paper Levi’s ‘man after man’ will be linked to his ‘god after god’. In an interview Levi has expressed his irritation over the desire of many for a Dio Padre, a God of power and justice. Building on the work of Richard Kearney, the death of the ‘onto-god’ in Auschwitz will be presented as the source for a new practice of theology. Kearney introduces twentieth century writers as our guides in the overcoming of theological distinctions between religious and secular; immanent and transcendent. In this paper the encounter between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ in Levi’s work will be discussed. In the middle of an absence of transcendence, of any meaning in Auschwitz, ‘god’ appears as an intriguing character in Levi’s testimony.

3. J. Sage Elwell (jsageelwell@gmail.com)

Creative Scholarship: Dissolving Lines in the Sand

An artistic movement, albeit an organic and as-yet- unstated one, is forming. What are its key components? A deliberate unartiness: ‘raw’ material, seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored, and unprofessional…Randomness, emotional urgency and intensity, reader/viewer participation; and overly literal tone, as if a reporter were viewing a strange culture; plasticity of form, pointillism, criticism as autobiography; self-reflexivity, self-ethnography, anthropological autobiography; a blurring (to the point of invisibility) of any distinction between fiction and nonfiction: the lure and blur of the real. This paper explores the liminal space between fiction and nonfiction in research- based monographs. I argue that in humanities related disciplines in particular, the facts of history and the truths logic can form a platform for deeper, more creative, theopoetic. Since the enlightenment, academic writing – and humanities scholarship in particular – has increasingly bent to the gravity of the hard-sciences; ever-more drawn to the seeming legitimacy of raw data and the calculus of utility. Today, the benchmark of contemporary humanities scholarship is the academic monograph, liberally sprinkled with footnotes and jargon to rival the sciences. But a change is coming. To be clear, the academic monograph will always have its place in the liberal arts academy. There is no substitute for a thoroughly researched and exhaustively documented book or article for moving topic-specific scholarship forward. However, as David Shields notes in the epigraph above, the ‘distinction between fiction and nonfiction’ is increasingly being exposed and exploited as little more than a line in the sand. The following is a theoretical and applied meditation on that dissolving line and the implications of its dissolution for the already blurry category of theological humanism. I begin by discussing a project I am currently completing about the deceased artist Jim Harvey, wherein I detail how I assembled and used ‘real’ artifacts to create an fictional account of his life. I then turn to the theoretical underpinnings of this bricolage technique, appealing in particular to the work of David Shields, Margot Singer, and Nicole Walker. Finally, I conclude with a meditation on the implications – and possibilities – of this method and its products for theological humanism, attending in particular to theological hermeneutics of Ricoeur and Gadamer.


Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 1.00 – 2.30 p.m.

1. Daniel Boscaljon (University of Iowa, daniel-boscaljon@uiowa.edu)

Loving Thy Neighbour: The Fragile Perspective of Proximity

This paper postulates a perspective of a long-distance lover, and the importance of instituting ethical boundaries within intimate relationships capable of preserving the space of self and other. I begin this paper by discussing the space that Thoreau, in Walden, assumes in his writing from the first person and locating a house situated ‘in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe’ as befits a constellation. This vantage point, hidden in a domain that Thoreau locates as the space where we commonly hide truth, is one that I argue has important implications for intimate relationships as well as our understanding of the divine. The second part of this paper builds on Rilke’s insight that ‘love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other,’ maintaining a space that touches, a space that preserves each as the thing that it is. I take Thoreau’s dwelling space as one that enables this kind of fragile boundary, this way of being in the world but not of the world, as a way of understanding Rilke’s advice about love. The third part of the paper looks at the theological ramifications of Thoreau in terms of Eckhart’s sense of nearness, an open nearness that Heidegger would develop centuries later. I here argue that Thoreau’s comportment allows us to participate in the growth and flourishing of the world from a divine perspective, one consistent with and not alien to love. I conclude with a test for this space will be human relationships and the capacity for the performance of love from one who remains near, working through whether or not intimacy, or ethics, remains possible for one who rests where gods might hide, to establish whether it is possible to love others, or god, in this way.

2. Thomas A. Carlson (UC Santa Barbara, tcarlson@religion.ucsb.edu)

Fragility of the Image: From the Icon of God to the Death Mask and its Photograph

This paper stages a comparison between two images of the invisible: in one direction, the icon of God as understood by Nicholas of Cusa and Michel de Certeau, where an infinite, and thus invisible, gaze nonetheless somehow shows itself to us; in the other direction, the death mask and its photograph as analyzed by Martin Heidegger and Jean-Luc Nancy, where through the face of the dead person we see the paradoxical look of one who absolutely no longer looks. Just as I, inasmuch as finite and relative, can never put myself in the place of the all-seeing God, in order thus to exercise his absolute and infinite look; so I, inasmuch as living, (or insofar as I am Dasein in Heidegger’s sense) can never occupy the position or the perspective of the one who is dead. The invisibility at stake in both cases, here, the absolutely all-seeing look of God and the absolutely non-seeing look of a dead person, nevertheless appears to me; the strictly invisible becomes for me in some way visible as invisible. Essential to this becoming visible of the invisible, I will argue, in both theological and thanatological senses, are social relations of love and mourning– or of condilectio and condolence– without which the look of the invisible simply does not regard us. Through the analysis of these images that seem paradoxical insofar as they make visible what remains strictly invisible, and by focusing on the creative social relations that prove indispensable to staging any such visibility of the invisible, this talks builds a theory of the image itself as inherently fragile because essentially temporal, appearing only in and through its disappearing, and as thus conditioned most intimately by ties of shared love and mourning.


Visual Arts

Devon Abts (King’s College London, devon.abts@gmail.com)

This session takes the conference title both literally and figuratively. Many modern artists have used earth—and sand specifically—as a medium. In When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), Francis Alÿs asked hundreds of volunteers to move a giant sand dune in Peru. James Turrell has spent decades converting a cinder cone in the Arizona desert into an observatory and contemplative space. Building upon such examples, presenters may wish to explore connections between environmental art and religion. Presenters are also welcome to consider boundaries in other ways. As Homi Bhabha recognizes, borders can be oppressive, but they can also be sites of creativity, in which people act out their ‘hybridity’.

Session One

Saturday 10th September, 9.00-10.30 a.m.

1. Elizabeth Powell (University of Cambridge, elizabethpowell78@gmail.com)

A Theo-Ecological Reading of the Liturgical and Cultural Character of David Jones’s Bride

The British tradition of wood-engraving in the 20th century, distinguished by its embrace of the white-line technique discovered in the 18th century by Thomas Bewick and first developed by William Blake, was a remarkable period of creative recovery and artistic experimentation. David Jones (1895-1974) is considered one of its most adept practitioners and his engraving, Bride (1930), said to be his personal favourite, exemplifies his capacity to create complex, deeply symbolic images through the subtle interplay of light, texture and the supple fluidity of the line out of one of the hardest and densest of woods, the end-grain of the Boxwood tree. In the space of its diminutive frame (8×11 cm), viewers are ushered in as wedding guests, drawn close to the bride herself and this intimate communion of creatures gathered at the foot of the Cross. Yet there is nothing cosy about this image. Rather, Bride is characterised in form and content as a tensive, liminal space, holding the viewer ‘in-between’ this play of light/dark, inner/outer, life/death, bitter/sweet. These dynamics of the engraving are helpfully illuminated by the liturgy of the Easter Vigil in which the renewal of the whole cosmos is recalled and bodied forth in the words and matter of the rite. Yet Bride is not only deeply liturgical in character, it reflects the history and aesthetic of the British Isles themselves—her ‘flowery, starry, intertwined image’ evoking Celtic, Roman and English Romantic elements ‘in a mantle of variety.’ In this paper, I propose to explore the liturgical and cultural character of Bride, showing how Jones’ engraving suggests a deep continuity between the wood of the Cross and the woodlands of Wales, or more broadly, between liturgy and place, church and cosmos, and thus bears significant implications for ecological and theological discussions today.

2. Naomi Billingsley (King’s College London, naomi.billingsley@gmail.com)

Louise Gardam’s recent Infinity Series (2014-2016) comprising two sequences of paintings – the smaller Earth canvases and the larger Cosmic paintings on handmade gesso– transcends boundaries between the macro and the micro. Gardam works without any preparatory sketches, and describes the paintings as originating beyond herself. Both in genesis and in final form, the works create a space in which boundaries become, like lines in the sand, ephemeral.  This paper offers a response to the Infinity Series that explores the opening up of boundaries between the macro and the micro in these works. Developed in conversation with the artist, the paper will draw on the writings of two British artists whose work, in different ways, dealt with this same liminality (or dissolution thereof) between the infinite and the particular: William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence (c.1803) and Cecil Collins’ The Vision of the Fool (1944). Gardam’s work will therefore be placed in a tradition of British art which offers the viewer a spiritual experience which is expansive rather than prescriptive – not constrained by religious boundaries, but rather invites the viewer to enter into the aesthetic space created by the works, and to their experience his or her own contemplative response to the infinite and the finite.

3. Hannah McClure (University of Surrey, h.mcclure@surrey.ac.uk)

Circles in the Sand:  The Semazen-Artist as Crucible

This paper explores the juncture of Mevlevi whirling and contemporary dance/theatre making in the practice-based performance work of the researcher. Sustaining itself in the texts and teachings of the Mevlevi, as well as perennialist scholarship, choreographic/devising processes are shown to realise the creative act as expression of a living tradition.  The work, Circles of Light (2011), is created by four initiated semazens and four professional dancers, functioning as a meeting point of cultures, religious affiliations, and embodied histories. Whirling, as generative nexus, draws the multiplicities of faith, culture and memory into itself, where they are transformed in the heart of each practitioner. As an interdisciplinary act, performative notions of co-presence are joined with somatic concepts of knowing and theological discourses on the heart. Through making, fields of interaction may develop awarenesses by which the seeds of Mevlevi initiatory process find fertile ground. The hearts of semazens, dance artists and audiences alike are touched, thus blurring notions of the initiated self, divine indwelling and secular performance making. From spaces of inner transformation, the semazen/artist is revealed as a crucible across lines of exoteric division, and salient metaphors of Sufi / Mevlevi tradition arise in the bodies of the work. Here, it is the creative and embodied act which weaves lines of theology, ritual movement and performance into a globalized inter-religious, inter-cultural tapestry. An interdisciplinary approach thus springs from modernity to facilitate the timeless bridging of intellect and experience in the perennial quest for union. While such an approach is not unproblematic, the combination of sincerity, an essential quality of the Sufi tradition, and a depth of theological searching define the artistic process as more than a pix-n-mix phenomena, placing it between older artistic cannons of sacred union and transmodernity.


Session Two

Saturday 10th September, 2.45-4.15 p.m.

1. Rebecca Ziegler (Georgia Southern University, rziegler@georgiasouthern.edu)

Certain formats—the triptych, reminiscent of an altarpiece, or Romanesque or Gothic arches, evoking church windows—can suggest a religious meaning for the subject matter of a painting, even if the iconic content is not explicitly religious.  When this is done, the boundary between sacred and secular is blurred, giving the intimation that everything can be sacred.  Among artists who have used this strategy in the past are Alexandre-Hyacinthe Dunouy, Caspar David Friedrich, Max Beckmann, Francis Bacon, and George Tooker.  However, in this paper I will concentrate on two American Appalachian artists, Jay Pfeil and Robert Johnson, who use this means to express their sense of the sacredness in nature.  In addition, I plan to show a few of my own works of art that express my pantheism by using this same strategy.

2. Janet H. Tulloch (Carleton University, jhtulloch@gmail.com)

‘The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us,’ writes Jhumpa Lahiri.  ‘Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember. They give a structure to our existence.’  In this presentation, I will use my background as both a historian of religion and photographer to engage with transformations in the cultural and temporal representation of material Christianity. Since 2002, I have been using the themes of borders, conflicts and transitions to frame the intellectual content in my artistic practice. By juxtaposing images and texts from diverse sites, including the island of Iona and the ancient Gaelic stronghold of Dalriada, I will bring a probing eye to the quest for purity, permanence and fixed religious positions.

Session Three

Sunday 11th September, 10.45 – 12.15 a.m.

1. Susanne Wigorts Yngvesson (Stockholm School of Theology, susanne.wigorts.yngvesson@ths.se)

Traces of Invisibilities in the Picture: The Vision and the Gaze

In Fanny and Alexander, Ingmar Bergman illustrates the way in which something invisible becomes visible, seen not with the biological eye but in a kind of vision of something real yet hidden. This example of invisibilities in the material picture creates dimensions where people become co-creators of the art and the world as perception (Merleau-Ponty). In horror-movies for example, this capability is used to invite the observer to explore dimensions of an ‘inner’ gaze (fantasy, dreams etc.). In this paper, I will use examples from films, which illustrate this phenomenon, as silence is used in music to contribute with rhythms and dimensions of reality which can be understood as mystical or iconographical (Marion). Invisibilities are not something non-existing, but an aspect of the flesh in the world (Merleau-Ponty).  Roland Barthes has expressed this idea: ‘Photography has something to do with resurrection: might we not say of it what the Byzantines said of the image of Christ which impregnated St. Veronica’s napkin: that it was not made by the hand of man, acheiropoietos?’ It is an ‘inverted’ visualization related to an apophatic theology, where nearly anything can be exposed or created through the invisibilities.  This paper will analyze two questions.  First, how do we make theology from invisibilities in the photograph? To interpret this perspective I will mainly use Marion and Merleau-Ponty.  Second, how can we interpret the directors’ and observer’s gaze as a God’s perspective position? Are there biblical texts we can use as parallels from this angle? This part will concern film and photography as theology.

2. Isabel Rocamora (Edinburgh Napier University, isabel@isabelrocamora.org)

and Mark Cauchi (York University, Canada, mcauchi@yorku.ca)

Withdrawing Borders, Presencing Beings: On Isabel Rocamora’s Faith

In this joint presentation, British-Spanish artist filmmaker and scholar Isabel Rocamora and scholar Mark Cauchi discuss Rocamora’s recent film installation, Faith (2015), which premiered in the UK at Summerhall galleries, Edinburgh, in spring 2016. The twenty-two minute film consists of three long takes, simultaneously presented on three side-by-side screens, of an Orthodox Jew, a Greek Orthodox Christian, and a Sunni Muslim performing their morning prayers at historically-significant sites in the Judean desert. Questioning segregation while celebrating difference, these uninterrupted images test our imaginary as well as our engrained cultural, ideological and political boundaries.

The Immanence of Belief: Presencing Earth and Being through Faith (Isabel Rocamora)

The lines that today separate Jews, Christians and Muslims in what constitutes their original setting, Jerusalem and its environs, are made evident through walls, flags, check-points and the military. The purpose is indeed to separate, or in most instances segregate, the Israeli habitat (its land and people, including the Jewish people of Israel) from the habitat of the Palestinians (that houses Muslim and Christian believers). Spoken from the perspective of an artist filmmaker who is also engaged in scholarly, theoretical research, this paper aims at an exposition of my conceptual and aesthetic intentions in the making of the three channel installation film Faith.  The paper will be delivered in two stages. First, I will discuss the inception of the idea together with its thematic issues. The film was prompted by the irony of witnessing division among communities that are so similarly focused on the communion of prayer. Centred on those who pray, Faith attends to the immanence of belief, the worldly presence that, in its here and now, holds the possibility for dialogue and ethical change. These concerns will be examined in relation to two philosophies which accompany my conceptual process: Martin Heidegger’s early ontology and Emmanuel Levinas’ ethics of alterity. I will discuss the effect of these thinkers on my creative production, reflecting on the philosophical implications of film aesthetics in my use of the extended sequence shot, namely, how its capturing of the temporality and spatiality of the subject enables the onscreen presence of being. It is the restoration of being in our segregated world, I will suggest, that enables our faith in gaining an understanding of the Other, dissolving boundaries and conceiving of new ways to live together, side-by-side.

Imaging Retreat: On Isabel Rocamora’s Faith (Mark Cauchi)

This paper offers a reading of British-Spanish artist Isabel Rocamora’s filmic artwork, Faith. Removed from the conflicted and contested zones of Jerusalem, the film undertakes a kind of desert retreat, at once moving to the desert sources of its subjects’ identities and stripping them of their distinct identifying traits.  While the screen’s frame provisionally serves as a visual border between these traditions, the film’s action, mise-en-scene, and cinematography begin to trouble these distinctions.  For while the camera attentively and respectfully delineates the particularities of its subjects’ acts of faith, the similarities of their gestures and vestments, of the cameras’ framings, and of the separate shots’ settings begin to blur those lines. Indeed, these lines, manifest in the abyssal space between the installation’s frames, which are even more deserted than the deserts projected onto the screens, begin to function as what Jacques Derrida calls the khora and the “desert in the desert.” Drawing, further, on the biblical story of Babel and on Emmanuel Levinas’s notion of the transcendence of the face, I shall try to show in my essay that the lines and limits that Rocamora’s film identifies both establish the contours and segregations of religious identity, while also withdrawing from them, holding out the hope of a possible crossing of such borders.  In this way, Rocamora’s film deconstructs faith, suggesting that it may not only cross the line or limit between our world and the beyond, but the lines that divide our horizontal plane.