December 7, 2022

Georgetown To Co-Host Christian Literary Imagination Symposium and Conference

On December 12 and 13, 2022, Georgetown will co-host a symposium and academic conference on the Christian literary imagination in collaboration with Campion Hall, Oxford, and Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

Rachel Cresswell and Rev. Joseph Simmons, S.J. discuss Saint Anselm of Canterbury
Rachel Cresswell and Rev. Joseph Simmons, S.J. discuss Saint Anselm of Canterbury

The two-day event in Oxford will begin with a symposium for scholars and graduate students in the fields of theology and literature. Eduardo Gutiérrez, a theology Ph.D. candidate at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, is looking forward to posing a question for the symposium on the Christian literary imagination and the author of The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien.

"I am thrilled to share my research and receive useful feedback from colleagues coming from different backgrounds, countries, schools of thought, and fields of expertise."

On the second day, the academic conference will feature distinguished speakers, including Rowan Williams, formerly archbishop of Canterbury, who will share reflections on the Christian literary imagination and how it is manifested in the work of a diverse array of writers.

A Culminating Event

The upcoming in-person event will conclude a series of webinars on the topic of the Christian literary imagination sponsored by the Future of the Humanities project. The project, a collaboration between the Georgetown University Humanities Initiative and the Las Casas Institute, Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, is led by Professor Michael Scott, a senior advisor to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia as well as a leading Shakespeare scholar and a fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. Throughout the series, Scott was interested in understanding the roots of the Christian literary imagination.

“Is the Christian literary imagination expressed through writers who are deliberately writing Christian literature? Or is it expressed through writers who are writing fiction or drama or poetry and who happen to be Christian, and therefore their Christian ideology comes through in their writing?”

To organize the series of webinars, Scott teamed up with Rev. Joseph Simmons, S.J., an American Jesuit finishing his doctoral thesis at Campion Hall, Oxford on the Christian imagination and the fertile place where belief and unbelief touch in the fiction of Virginia Woolf and Marilynne Robinson. With the help of Kathryn Temple, Georgetown University professor and senior fellow to the Future of the Humanities project, the team produced 28 engaging webinars over the course of the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years.

Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., Rev. Joseph Simmons, S.J., and Michael Scott discussing Pope Francis and Graham Greene
Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., Rev. Joseph Simmons, S.J., and Michael Scott discussing Pope Francis and Graham Greene

Creating a Space for Dialogue

While the words “Christian” and “literature” were part of the series title, both Scott and Simmons emphasize that the event series was not just for people who were scholars of literature, nor just for religious-minded people. The series explored texts through a Christian lens, even though many of the authors were not particularly or explicitly religious. Simmons pointed to the universality of such an approach.

“Literature is a great way of treating the questions over time that play in every human’s heart.”

For example, Seattle University English professor Charles Tung presented on the English writer H.G. Wells. While Wells rejected religious belief, he explored a question frequently discussed by Christians: “What does the end of times look like?” Similarly, in his presentation on the English writer Graham Greene, a Catholic who wrestled with his faith, Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown, noted that Greene’s concerns are reflected in the pontificate of Pope Francis today.

Spanning the Ages

The Christian Literary Imagination event series showcased writers from a variety of time periods–from Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), a former archbishop of Canterbury, to Flannery O’Connor, the twentieth-century American novelist–to emphasize how Christianity has influenced a wide spectrum of literature. Scott pointed out how intertwined the Christian tradition has been with Western civilization.

“You can’t get away from Christianity – it’s the bedrock of our value system. It’s about loving one another. It’s about how you love one another.”

By reaching back to the medieval period and forward to the modern age, the series emphasized both the compelling nature of the Christian literary imagination and its varied interpretations over time. Throughout, it touched upon questions all people struggle with, questions about what it means to be human, to live and work with others, and to face our own mortality.

To learn more about the upcoming Christian literary imagination symposium and conference in Oxford, please visit the event page.