Conference at UG: The Power of the Word.Poetry: Word Made Flesh: Flesh Made Word 

Conference at UG: The Power of the Word.Poetry: Word Made Flesh: Flesh Made WordAbout the ConferenceCall for PapersCall for Papers 2014

Call for Papers 2014


The Power of the Word International Conference IV


Thresholds of Wonder: Poetry, Philosophy and Theology in Conversation


Organised jointly by Heythrop College, University of London; the Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome; and the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome, 17-20 June, 2015




‘We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.’

(G.K. Chesterton)


Christian traditions of many kinds invoke a ‘theology of wonder’. It features prominently, for instance, in Benedictine spirituality, the liturgy, the Orthodox tradition of the icon, St Francis’s ‘Canticle of the Sun’ and St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. But wonder is also part of aesthetic experience. Many poems appeal to a sense of wonder, conspicuous examples being Dante’s ‘wonder-ful’ sight of the white rose at the culmination of the Divine Comedy, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s childlike, ecstatic delight in ‘Hurrahing in Harvest’ and T.S. Eliot’s attempts to ‘utter God’ at various wondrous moments in the Four Quartets. Not that wonder is the preserve of religious poetry. Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things and Giacomo Leopardi’s ‘The Infinite’ explore the wonder of, respectively, the external and inner world. Some philosophers, too, place wonder centre stage. Philosophy, for Plato, begins in wonder, from, that is, the human propensity to be excited and curious about what truly exists. In the Tractatus Ludwig Wittgenstein wonders at the existence of the world, wonder being for him the inexplicable, the ineffable.

Recently the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion has given the ‘sense of wonder’ a new lease of life. His philosophy of wonder, inspired by the idea that life continuously presents us with things beyond our expectations, has provided a framework for theological reflection and for the reading of poetry, the latter being understood as an aesthetic activity that brings out the unknown and unknowable aspect of reality.

‘Wonder’, of course, although it may be ‘childlike’, is not the same as an uncritical, Panglossian attitude to the world, a naive appreciation only of what is good and pleasing and beautiful. On the contrary, ‘wonder’ may also be seen to include a sense of ‘stupor’, even helplessness, in the face of nothingness or meaninglessness or of the tragic and the power of evil in human affairs, especially in the light of the Holocaust and other events of late modernity.

The fourth Power of the Word conference aims to explore these themes in relation to theology, philosophy, poetry and the arts.

Confirmed keynote speakers for the 2015 conference include: Professor Piero Boitani (Sapienza, University of Rome); Professor Massimo Donà (Università San Raffaele, Milan); Professor Richard Kearney (Boston College); Sara Maitland (University of Lancaster); and Professor Paul Murray OP (Angelicum, Rome).


The Conference will include a poetry-reading event and a workshop/seminar on points of contact between English and Italian poetry in relations to the topic of the conference.

Proposals from established scholars and research students in the fields of literary studies, theology and philosophy are welcome. If you wish to give a paper (20 minutes), please send a title and abstract of no more than 250 words, together with a brief curriculum vitae to Francesca Bugliani-Knox ( HYPERLINK "", copying in Jean Ward ( HYPERLINK "" and Bernard Sawicki (HYPERLINK "" by 30 November 2014. For ease of reference, when labelling the file containing your abstract and C.V.,  please include your name. We welcome theoretical reflections as well as discussions of individual texts, authors and artists from different countries and traditions. The language of the conference will be English, but as this year’s conference is being held in Rome, we hope that there will be papers which also explore Italian poets, text and tradition. Some issues that might be addressed are suggested below, but the list is by no means exclusive.

‘Wonder is the origin of our awareness of the divine, which together with awe and bafflement is a component of the religious instinct’ (Basil Hume). 

Wonder is crucial for theology: the way to faith leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement. There is a 'theology of wonder'.

Wonder is at the heart of the liturgy and music.

Wonder is crucial to philosophy: Plato asserted that philosophy begins in wonder. Philosophy arises from the human ability to reflect on experience, to wonder and be curious about what is.

Often poetry arises from and conveys a sense of wonder.

Wonder is the intersection between the aesthetic and the spiritual.

The sense of wonder is present in scientific endeavour.

Is there a connection between ‘wonder’ and the ‘stupor’ or anxiety and even helplessness felt in the face of nothingness, meaninglessness, suffering, death, or the sense of the tragic and the power of evil in human affairs?

Wonder plays a conspicuous role in the visual arts, for example, in the Baroque.

The wonder of the quotidian and everyday objects and events.


The Power of the Word conferences foster dialogue between theologians, philosophers, literary scholars and creative writers. Initiated by Heythrop College, University of London, in 2011, the conferences have been held in London (2011 and 2012) and in Gdańsk, Poland (2013). Interdisciplinary and ecumenical in scope, they explore connections and disconnections, continuities and discontinuities between religious experience, religious practice, theological reflection, biblical interpretation, ethics and spirituality on the one hand, and poetry (not always explicitly religious) on the other. Both theoretical discussion and analysis of specific texts, with reflection on the work of particular authors, poets and thinkers of different countries, cultures and religious traditions, have found vigorous expression at each of these conferences.


Advisory Board

Professor Mark Burrows (The University of Applied Sciences, Bochum, Germany), Professor Warwick Gould (Institute of English Studies, University of London), Rev. Michael Holman S.J.  (Principal, Heythrop College, University of London), Dr Francesca Bugliani Knox (Research Fellow, Heythrop College, University of London), David Lonsdale (Heythrop College, University of London), Professor Jay Parini (Middlebury College, U.S.A.), Dr Antonio Spadaro S.J. (Director, Civiltà Cattolica, Rome), Professor John Took (University College London), Professor Jean Ward (University of Gdańsk).


Executive Committee

R.P. Philippe Nouzille OSB (Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome), Dr Jennifer Reek (University of Glasgow), R.P. Bernard Sawicki (Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome), Dr Monika Szuba (University of Gdańsk).


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