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Power of the Word International Conference VII
16-20 September, 2024
La Sapienza University, Rome

Marc Chagall, Introduction to the Jewish theatre.

"The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life." Oscar Wilde

Poets, philosophers, and theologians all testify to "the power of the word", whether the source of this creativity is held
to be divine or human. The "word" is dramatic and dialogic. This conference will examine the ways in which its potency
is expressed through enactment or performance.


At the heart of literature, novelists and lyrical and epic poets explore the Word as dynamic divine act. We also find dramatic traditions which encapsulate the power of the 'enacted word': Greek tragedy;  the 'golden age' of Renaissance theatre;
the modern theatre as a vehicle for existentialist crisis or cultural/nationalist proclamation. Outside of the formal theatre, many great literary works are devised for quasi-dramatic realisation. Musical settings of the word, such as song and opera, require performance.


In the Bible, especially in Genesis and the Psalms, God's uttered word signifies creative, dynamic power: 'my word shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose'. Thus we read Jesus as the logos, the Word of God who enters into the human condition. Contemporary theology as 'theodrama' takes its cue from the world of drama. The religious 'word' is also proclaimed, enacted, in liturgy and ritual, and in sacred music.


In philosophy, the 'performed word' is recognised in the importance of rhetoric, the art of persuasion, alongside grammar
and logic. Plato's Socratic model of dialogical encounter, and Aristotle's doctrine of tragedy, have provided an example
and inspiration for philosphical modernity, including Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus.


The seventh interdisciplinary Power of the Word conference takes its cue from the 'dramatised word'. How does the notion
of performance or enactment enhance our conversation? When is a performance judged to be authentic or effective? What about perverted or untruthful performances of the word (propaganda, mass media distortion)? Can a performance be 'false'? What is 'dramatic theology'? Can there be a 'dramatic philosophy'?

Confirmed keynote speakers for the 2024 conference include:

  • Anton Bierl, Professor of Greek Philology, Ancient Greek Studies/Classics, University of Basel.

  • Patrick Goujon SJ, Professor of Spiritual Theology and Dogmatic Theology at Centre Sèvres, Paris and Senior Fellow in Spirituality and Theology, Campion Hall, Oxford. 

  • Michael Kirwan SJ, Assistant Professor in Catholic Theology and Director of the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin.

  • Emma Mason, Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, UK.

  • Donatella Montini, Professor of English Language and Translation, Università la Sapienza, Rome.

  • Tom Stern, Associate Professor of Philosophy at University College London.


Previous 'Power of the Word' conversations have considered 'the call of literature'; 'poetry and prayer'; 'poetry: word made flesh, flesh made word'; 'thresholds of wonder'; 'the prophetic word'.


7. The Dramatised Word:
Theology, Philosophy and Literature in Conversation

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