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VI 'The Call of Literature: Theology, Philosophy and Literature in Conversation'

The Power of the Word International Conference 6
28 June - 2 July 2021,

Potw Logo Blue 100This conference was originally scheduled to take place in Dublin but, as the Covid pandemic made that impossible, it became a fully online conference—and a very successful one. The central topic was the ‘call’ of literature, as it is heard both by writers and by their readers or hearers. In preparation for the conference, participants were invited to reflect on this ‘call’, its nature and its ramifications:

  • What does it mean to speak of a ‘call’ or ‘vocation’ to write?
  • What do writers themselves, literary scholars, philosophers or theologians have to say about this?
  • In what sense, if any, can we speak of readers being ‘called’ to literature?
  • What are the implications or consequences for readers and writers of responding positively or negatively to this call?

However we might resolve these questions, we are left with a problem: is the spirit of literature necessarily an ‘angel of light’? Or can the ‘call’ of literature sometimes prove to be an alluring but ultimately destructive siren song?

Topics explored by keynote speakers:

  • The call of poetry
  • John Henry Newman: poetry and the grammar of assent
  • Flannery O’Connor: journey to the province of joy
  • The new Bloomusalem: Joyce’s Ulysses as a sacred text
  • Wittgenstein, the language of consciousness and Henry James’ The Golden Bowl
  • Poetry, painting and the call of grief

The conference also included a showing and roundtable discussion of Flannery, an award-winning documentary film about Flannery O’Connor, and poetry readings from their own work by Eilean Ni Chuilleanáin, Irish Professor of Poetry, and Micheal O’Siadhail, author of The Five Quintets.

Once again the conference attracted a large number of short paper presentations (around fifty) on a wide range of topics. Some examples:

  • Poetic and religious ‘calls’ (William Blake, Coleridge and Shelley, Milan Rúfus)
  • Discerning the vocation of literature (Hopkins, Pound and Eliot, Matthew Arnold)
  • What is literature is called to do? (George Eliot)
  • Literature: a call to teach? (Middle English poetry, Robert Pollock, Stanislaw Lubomirski)
  • Literature, exhaustion and regeneration (Goethe, Michel Houllebecq)
  • Detective fiction and a call to search for meaning
  • Where love and language meet: the calling of the poet
  • Answering poetry’s call (R. S. Thomas, Scott Cairns, Wendell Berry, Tim Winton)
  • Faith, poetry, prayer (George Mackay Brown, Geoffrey Hill, David Jones)
  • Literature in conversation with theology (Augustine and Dante, Shakespeare, Iris Murdoch)

The keynote addresses and a selection of other presentations from the conference, revised and re-edited for publication, is currently in the pipeline. The planned publication date is 2024.

Click here to see the previous titles in the series.

(Our thanks to the Jesuits in Ireland for sponsoring and also providing a summary of the conference)

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