Imagining Christianity: a Phenomenological Discussion | Franciscan University of Steubenville
  •  PhilosopherLineUp

    Imagining Christianity: a Phenomenological Discussion.

    Gaming, Austria

    May 3-4, 2019

    “The artist who ‘observes’ the world in order to gain ‘knowledge’ of nature and men for his own purpose relates to it in a similar way to the phenomenologist.”
    —Edmund Husserl in a letter to Hugo Von Hofmannsthal (1907)

    “Reborn, he or she has a gaze that can see the kingdom breaking into the world... [The Christian] always has the chance to experience ‘experience’ anew. As material spirit, Christians can look at the material world and also ‘experience’ the kingdom. What becomes manifest in the world is the possibility of something other than ‘world.’”
    Poetry and Revelation, Kevin Hart

    Important Information for Participants


    • Kevin Hart, Univ. of Virginia, Keynote Speaker
    • Cassandra Falke, UiT/Tromsø, Featured Speaker

    Confirmed Participants

    • ANDREW BARRETTE, Boston College
    • DONALD BOYCE, Katholieke Univ. Leuven
    • MARIANO CRESPO, Univ. of Navarra
    • LIEVEN DE MAEYER, independent scholar
    • KATARZYNA DUDEK, independent scholar
    • ELISA GRIMI, European Society for Moral Phil.
    • RICO GUTSCHMIDT, Univ. of Konstanz
    • GABRIEL HALEY, Concordia Univ.
    • JENNIFER HEALY, Franciscan Univ.
    • JULIEN LAMBINET, Univ. of Fribourg
    • STEPHEN LEWIS, Franciscan Univ.
    • REGIS MARTIN, Franciscan Univ.
    • FR. RUPERT MAYER O.P., Franciscan Univ.
    • LUCIA MONTES, Univ. Autónoma Madrid
    • PAWEŁ PIJAS, Univ. of Gdansk
    • MARTINA ROESNER, Max Weber Kolleg Erfurt
    • JOSEF SEIFERT, Hildebrand Project
    • EVAN SANDSMARK, Univ. of Virginia
    • MICHAEL STAUDIGL, Univ. of Vienna
    • JANA TRAJTELOVÀ, Univ. of Trnava
    • MARTA ZAJAC, Univ. of Silesia Katowice

    About the Conference

    Phenomenology towers as one of the most significant philosophical movements of the twentieth century. It continues to evolve, extending its influence into adjacent disciplines. As a mode of attention, it provides a technical lexicon and means of thinking through any problem involving human experience. 

    Phenomenologists grant perception pride of place, but not at the expense of the imagination, a mediating and alchemical force lying at the nexus of world and self and making experience possible. In his Confessions, Augustine ponders the interconnectedness of manifestation, imagination, and the divine. He anticipates phenomenology’s central concern by 1,500 years, musing, “My question was the attention I gave to them and their response was their beauty.” Augustine then makes the enigmatic assertion that “human beings can put a question so that the invisible things of God are understood and seen through the things which are made.” This notion leads directly into his meditation on the “vast hall” of memory, a faculty that seems to encompass the imagination for Augustine: “Memory’s huge cavern, with its mysterious, secret, and indescribable nooks and crannies, receives all these perceptions, to be recalled when needed and reconsidered… But who can say how images are created[?]” Who indeed? And what is the relationship of these images to the objects they recall? To the spiritual realities to which they supposedly point? What does it mean to “put the question” so that objects gesture at realities beyond themselves? How does one attend to the supernatural through the natural? And finally, what role does the activity of the imagination play in supporting this mode of revelation? How does imagination assist the human person in receiving revelation as revelation?

    Husserl articulated a theory of the imagination but was careful to separate the tasks of phenomenology from those of theology. Following in the wake of his teachings, however, the discipline turned swiftly to questions of religious experience. This is evident in the work of earlier figures such as Otto, Heidegger, and Stein, reaching its apex with the “theological turn” inaugurated by thinkers like Levinas and Marion. In recent years scholars have become increasingly interested in articulating a phenomenology of imaginative experience, especially as regards sacred things. Examples include the work of Robert Sokolowski, Kevin Hart, Cassandra Falke, Emmanuel Falque, and many others. 

    This conference joins that discussion. We welcome papers and panel proposals on any topic exploring the relationship between Christianity and imagination within a phenomenological key. We encourage and anticipate a wide variety of approaches to this subject. Papers might address the imagination from the angle of cognitive science, psychoanalysis, or other schools of psychological thought, considering what new phenomena these methodologies uncover. Contributions could also explore the rich but fraught relationship between art and faith, investigating such topics as icon-writing, iconoclasm, liturgy, drama, illuminated manuscripts, devotional objects, religious kitsch, architecture, literature, and so on. What does the field of theological aesthetics, enthused by phenomenology, have to say about the Christian imagination? What happens when minds without religious belief imagine Christianity? What are points of both contact and discontinuity between the imaginative productions of different faith traditions? Do they reflect or else flow from different roles entrusted to the imagination? How does the radical materiality of Christianity, emblematized by the Incarnation and the economy of sacraments, affect the way it can be imagined? What does the centrality of the Crucifixion mean for any kind of Christian aesthetic? What implication does the Second Person as Logos have for cultures of reading? What are the implications of Christ’s choice to teach using image-laden parables? What are the relationships between narrative, doctrine, and the gospel “genre”? What can be said about the Holy Spirit and imagination’s generative potential—perhaps especially as regards poetic inspiration? What does the sometimes riotous cult of the saints imply about the role of imagination within Christian devotion? How do dreams mediate religious revelation, and what role does the imagination play during such experiences? How does imagination color the contemplative tradition and its accounts of “mystical experience”? These are just some of the questions that papers on Christianity, imagination, and phenomenology might address. We are also interested in papers dealing more generally with the interface between imagination and revelation within the thought of key phenomenologists and theologians, as well as original contributions to the phenomenology of religious experience.

    We are pleased to have Dr. Kevin Hart (University of Virginia) as our keynote speaker. His recent book Poetry and Revelation: For a Phenomenology of Religious Poetry does groundbreaking work in this field. Dr. Cassandra Falke (The Arctic University of Norway), author of The Phenomenology of Love and Reading, will also be joining us as a featured speaker. 

    The conference participation fee is set at EUR 270, and includes lodging for three nights at the Kartause Hotel (checking in on Thursday, May 2, and leaving on Sunday, May 5), all meals (including Thursday dinner and Sunday breakfast) as well as coffee breaks. Information on Vienna airport rides and train rides (to Scheibbs and Sankt Pölten) with associated costs will be offered as the event approaches.

    About the Venue: 

    Franciscan University of Steubenville has its main campus in Ohio as well as a study abroad program located in Lower Austria, just over two hours southwest of Vienna. The Austria program is situated within the Kartause Maria Thronus Iesu, which was formerly a fourteenth-century Carthusian monastery, marked by its extraordinary natural and spiritual beauty. The Kartause has its own hotel and restaurant, and the town of Gaming with its amenities is easily reachable on foot. 

    Organizing Committee: 

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