The Sacred in the Secular in European Literature

Postgraduate and Early Career Conference

Friday, 13 October 2017

University of London, Senate House, London WC1E 7HU

Keynote speaker: Professor Judith Ryan (Harvard University)

Most aesthetic concepts are theological ones in disguise. — Terry Eagleton

Literature can never be entirely secular. — Graham Ward

This interdisciplinary postgraduate and early career conference aims to consider the question of secularisation across a variety of literatures and faiths.

How has the cultural and social significance of religion changed in Europe, from the Middle Ages to the present? How does European literature register or reformulate the ‘narrative’ of secularisation, and what is it about literary texts that makes them such privileged sites for exploring the intersection of the sacred and the secular? In what ways has renewed critical attention to these issues affected responses to literary texts that use rhetoric, imagery, or ideas that can be traced back to religious traditions? Finally, is secularization an inevitable historical process, as we move from the medieval period towards the present?

We invite proposals covering a range of periods (from the medieval and early-modern to the twenty-first century) and across different national contexts (including French-, Hispanic-, Germanic-, Italian-, Slavonic- and English-speaking cultures). We hope to attract PhD students and early career researchers working in different fields (Modern Languages, English Studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural History, Film and Media Studies and Digital Humanities, Performance and Reception History, History of the Book and of Print Culture, and others). Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome.

Topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Mystic experience, epiphanies, privileged moments or other special states of being
  • Crises of belief and linguistic and formal innovations that respond to them
  • Secularism and the pagan, alternative faiths, ‘new mythologies’, humanism
  • Disenchantment and its sequels
  • Conversion and its effects upon literary writing
  • Aestheticism as a substitute for religion
  • Theological and literary readings: are they compatible?
  • Gender and sexuality: ordination and orientation, authority, spirituality and wisdom
  • Material culture: secular images in illuminated manuscripts, religious iconography in secular literature (e.g. Symbolism), illustrations
  • The ‘death of God’ and its reflections in literature
  • Syncretic belief, pluralism and Pantheism

We invite proposals from postgraduate students and early career researchers (who are within two years of having completed their PhD) for 20-minute papers. Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent, accompanied by a biographical statement of no more than 200 words on the same page, to by 10 March 2017. It is anticipated that some travel bursaries for postgraduate speakers will be available. A modest registration fee will apply.

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