Thursday, January 26, 2012
The 2nd Power of the Word conference (organised jointly by the Institute of English Studies and Heythrop College, University of London) will be on the theme of Poetry and Prayer: Continuities and Discontinuities. (Senate House, University of London, 29-30 June 2012).
Here’s the Call for Papers:
Prayer is the little implement
Through which Men reach
Where Presence—is denied them
The second Power of the Word conference focuses on the theme of poetry and prayer. It seeks to promote further the dialogue, begun successfully at Heythrop College in last June’s conference, between theologians, philosophers, literary scholars and creative writers about the following questions:
What do poetry and prayer share?
How do they differ?
In what ways do they relate to each other?
The conference, interdisciplinary and ecumenical in scope, encourages theoretical discussion as well as analysis of specific texts and reflection on the work of particular authors, poets and thinkers of different countries and religious traditions.
The analogy and continuity between poetry and prayer, the poetical and the mystical, has often been discussed. The psychological mechanism used by grace to raise us to prayer is, Henry Bremond wrote, the same as that set in motion in poetic experience. Both poetry and prayer are rooted in an inner experience of concrete and fundamental values so that both invite, using the language of John Henry Newman, a real rather than a notional assent. Reading a poem can be perceived as a prayerful experience. W.H. Auden wrote: ‘to pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention – on a landscape, a poem, a geometrical problem, an idol, or the True God – that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying’.
And yet it is also true that we have no shared understanding of the terms ‘prayer’ and ‘poetry’. Some might claim that there is no connection between them. The traditions of poetry and prayer are numerous and the connections between them elusive. And poetry is, self-evidently, not exactly the same as prayer.
The conference will consider the similarities, interrelatedness and differences between poetryand prayer. Theoretical reflections and historical surveys will provide a context for the discussion of individual texts and authors from different countries and cultural and religious traditions.
We invite proposals (250 words) from literary scholars, theologians, philosophers and creative writers for 20-minutes papers, plus 10 minutes of discussion, on the following topics:
1. Theological and literary studies of the theme of poetry and prayer;
2. Theoretical perspectives on the relationship between poetry and prayer;
3. Poetry and prayer in different religious traditions;
4. Prayer in the form of poems;
5. Poetry at the threshold of prayer;
6. Poetry, prayer and the absence of God;
7. Poetry versus prayer;
8. Poetry and liturgy.
Abstracts need to be emailed to the organisers Francesca Bugliani Knox and David Lonsdale, both from Heythrop, by tomorrow: 27 Jan 2012.
I’m hoping to get an abstract in on themes that I started to think about following my contribution to an online symposium on Pete Rollins’ book Insurrection, in which he uses Kierkegaard’s characterisation of the poet, linked to the notion of the singer/song-writer, to reflect on the way in which church leaders (including worship and prayer leaders) have to invite us to participate fully in our own pain and suffering, in our own experiences of the absence of God.
I’m still trying to secure funding for further ethnographic study of Pete’s notions of transformance art and suspended space and their embodiment in practice. So hopefully this conference will also help me think critically about the relationship between the performance of poetry, prayer, and subjective transformation.