Literature, Theology and the Arts Research Seminars

Semester Two, 2018/19

Wednesdays, 4.00-5.30, Upper Seminar Room, No.4 The Square   

 9th January (LTA) Prof Alan Riach (Professor of Scottish Literature) Translating Belief: Material and Immaterial Realities in “The Birlinn of Clanranald”

 16th January (TRS) Prof Joel Rasmussen (University of Oxford)  Kant's Conflict of the Faculties, Reconsidered

 23rd January (LTA) Prof Heather Walton (Professor of Theology and Creative Practice) The Children are Always Lost: Exploring the Theopoetics of Marilynne Robinson

 30th January (TRS) Alexander Gaderer (University of Vienna)  Is There a Moral Obligation to Disobey Law? The Forgotten Virtue of Epiekeia

 6th February (LTA with Church and the Academy) Rev'd Canon Mark Oakley (St. John’s College, University of Cambridge) - Reaching the Intellect Via the Heart: Religion and Poetry

 20th February (TRS) Prof Menashe Anzi (Ben Gurion University of the Negev) From Yemen to India and Back: Jewish Immigration and Knowledge Flows

 27th February (LTA) Dr Doug Gay (Lecturer in Practical Theology) Rethinking Reformed Aesthetics: Reforming the Sensorium

 6th March (TRS) Prof Todd D. Still (Baylor University) Paul and the Good

 13th March (LTA) Kristy Whaley (Theology and Religious Studies) and Meg MacDonald (Anglia Ruskin) - TBC

 20th March (TRS) Prof Glen Pettigrove (Chair of Moral Philosophy) Righteous Anger

All welcome.

Enquiries to (TRS) or (LTA)

 Past LTA Seminars

2018/19 Semester One 'Love'

Oct 3rd –Alana Vincent, ‘Love and Monsters: Gender and Autonomy in Modern Golem Literature’

Oct 10th – John Butt, ‘Bach and the Dance of God - or Humankind?’ 

Oct 31st – Jonah Coman and Anna Fisk 

Nov 15th Vittorio Montemaggi ‘Love in Dante'

2017/18 Semester Two

31st January      Sue Brind and Jim Harold (The Glasgow School of Art) Room 203, 4 University Gardens

“Art: Enactment, Presence and Prophecy”

Art is the only twin life has ... art does not seek to describe but to enact (Charles Olson). In his essay, Human Universe (1950-51), on the real work of poetry the early C20th American poet, Charles Olson, sought to question convention and the received rhetorical structures of poetry; to, in effect, ‘wild’ language and thereby return to it the immediacy of experience, process and change. By so doing he conceived human creativity as acting empathetically within the wild energy of the Cosmos. Olson’s term ‘to enact’ is analysed alongside Jean-François Lyotard’s formulations on art, specifically those made in the essay, ‘Scapeland’ (1989), in the terms of the event and the figural as indicators of a re-wilding of meaning freed from society’s grand narratives. Referencing Maurice Blanchot’s essay, ‘The “Sacred” speech of Hölderlin’ (1949), consideration is also given to the poet-artist as prophet. Using the example of Hölderlin’s last poems, prophetic language unfolds to a point where to enact finds a natural conclusion in the poet’s non-being. In this paper, art practice, creative writing, and theoretical analysis are interwoven to establish a new metaphysics of enactment amongst complex social, political and cultural contemporary narratives. 

21st February     Elizabeth Anderson (University of Aberdeen)

“‘Joy of Undeep and Unabiding Things’: The Domestic Sublime in Virginia Woolf and Gwendolyn Brooks”

This paper is part of a larger project on material spirituality in modernist women’s writing. For these writers, things mobilise creativity, traverse domestic, public and wild space and stage the interaction between the numinous and the mundane. In this paper I consider the spiritual life of things and how they create a domestic sublime in the work of Virginia Woolf and Gwendolyn Brooks.

In the tradition of negative theology, darkness and silence are frequently used to describe the divine as transcendent, unknowable and absent. Yet in Virginia Woolf’s novels darkness and silence are configured as located in the mundane, the material and presence. The uncanny strangeness of things within domestic space allows an exploration of material mysticism and its expression in Woolf’s writing. The paper than moves from analysis of the strange liveliness of the Ramsay house in To the Lighthouse to the liveliness of things in forming space and subjectivity in Gwendolyn Brooks’ novel, Maud Martha. I draw on bell hooks’ writing on black homeplace and aesthetics to analyse the way objects in Brooks’ novel testify to an occluded spirituality of the everyday. 

21st March         Richard McLauchlan         

“Silence, the Arts, and Spiritual Discipline: Thoughts after R.S. Thomas”

R.S. Thomas’s poetry is intimately connected with silence. The first part of this paper suggests that a practice of ‘paschal reading’ can develop in the process of engagement with that silence. Such a practice can be understood as a form of spiritual discipline, insofar as it transforms and purifies the reader’s own relationship with, and understanding of, theological language, suffering, hope, and prayer. But the notion of this discipline arises out of the reading itself; it is not artificially read onto it. The second part of the paper therefore asks whether similarly paschal disciplines can arise out of other forms of artistic explorations of silence, or whether it is poetry’s unique interplay between word and silence that alone affords such an engagement. The Tate Modern’s ‘Rothko Room’ offers an appropriate opportunity to ask this question in relation to a specific set of paintings, as they resonate significantly with the features of silence that we discover in Thomas’s poems. To consider this series in such a fashion is to unearth a number of challenges to the idea of engagement with the arts as spiritual discipline. Nevertheless, it will become clear that transformations of an authentically paschal nature are possible in this context, even if an examination of them unsettles the framework that had developed in reading Thomas’s poems. 

18th April         David Jasper

"Theology and Spirituality in the Pastoral Tradition in English Poetry" 

Despite the Reformation and all the changes in the English church, including the current trend towards managerialism, since the late Middle Ages, poetry has sustained a consistent tradition of pastoral theology from Chaucer to the present day. This paper traces the history of this tradition from the Poor Parson of the Town of The Canterbury Tales - its qualities and enduring significance for theology and the Church.  

2nd May           Scott Robertson (Scottish Episcopal Church)

"Walls and Dust: The Literary and Theological Subversion of Security"

In the face of what Charles Taylor calls “exclusivist humanism” (A Secular Age), the corresponding temptation to increased academic specialisation which builds separation upon separation between and within intellectual disciplines, and the, at times, rabid expression of political fence building, the relationship between theology and the arts finds itself once again the focus of much attention. This paper paradoxically/contrarily argues that such boundaries, such walls are in fact illusory – indeed that the particular relationship between theology and literature cannot but be a sympathetic and mutually supportive one. Reflecting upon both ancient and more recent artistic exploration, this paper seeks to trace the common fragile threads which serve to undermine any sense of artificial security – a security that oppresses rather than liberates. The subversive Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11) is placed alongside Michael Marder’s philosophical reflections, to reveal that the common source of both binding and loosing, of wall building and breaking lies in the dust itself. As such, notions of security through separation are subverted in the face of a common awareness of fragility.

16th May           Linden Bicket (University of Edinburgh)

'"The Knox-Ruined Nation"? Scottish Catholic Fiction in the Twentieth Century'

In the first poem of his debut collection, The Storm (1954), the Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown diagnosed Scotland as 'the Knox-ruined nation', that 'poet and saint / must rebuild with their passion.' Brown's determination to restore the artistically bereft nation to full creative health was at once controversial and defiant, but he was not alone in his highly negative view of modern Scotland's thwarted cultural and spiritual potential. This paper traces a history of anti-Calvinism, crypto-Catholicism, and literary conversion in twentieth-century Scottish literature. Rather than aggressive enemies, this paper proposes that Catholic and Protestant literary imaginations can be seen as mutually enriching sites of creative interaction and exchange.

2017/18 Semester One 'Gender'

27th September

Dr Anna Fisk (Research Assistant in Literature, Theology and the Arts)

‘So You’ve Got Something Just For Yourself’: Knitting, Spirituality and Gender

Knitting is a popular activity in the 21st century, experienced by many practitioners as personally, socially, and politically meaningful and transformative. This paper, based on qualitative research with knitters in central Scotland, explores contemporary knitting as implicit religion and spirituality in terms of wider patterns in religion and society. Firstly, there are echoes of religious community and identity found in the knitting subculture, which are discussed in reference to shifts in congregational modes of belonging. The paper then considers knitting as an expressive-therapeutic practice, part of the rise of subjective wellbeing culture and the phenomenon of spirituality. 

11th October

Dr Francis Stewart (University of Stirling)

The Stranger in the Pit: The Curation of Women in the ‘Religion’ of Punk

As we mark the 40th anniversary of punk, there have been numerous events, from gigs, talks, exhibits, films, and books; including Joe Corre’s ‘stunt’ of burning memorabilia in protest of the continued commodification and corporatisation of punk. Missing from far too many of these events has been the voice and experiences of women, people of colour, and LGBTQI+ people. Previous examinations of different aspects of punk through an Implicit Religion framework have revealed the significance of the concept of intersectionality, Protestant understandings of the world and an individualised, deconstructive approach to 'faith', 'spirituality' and 'religion' that centres around live performances and activism. Further utilising the analytical tools of Implicit Religion this paper will explore the representation of gender and race within punk exhibits to demonstrate that they serve to render non-White, non-males as immaterial. In so doing they are rendered as strangers, spoken for and not conversed with.

Reading Week – colloquium Writing on the Walls: Literature and Theology for This World on Friday 27th October

1st November

Prof Vicky Gunn (The Glasgow School of Art)

Does St. Pelagia’s Gender Matter? The Limits of Theological History in the Face of Queer Bodies

This presentation will use visual imagery to challenge the limits of the inconceivable in theological history.  It explores the Late Antique Syrian saint, Pelagia, as an archetype of holiness’ ambiguities.  It notes that it is over the bodies of such characters which history and theology alike assert control.  In so doing, the presentation illustrates how these academic disciplines both shore-up and disrupt concepts of the unthinkable which embody forms of social injustice in relation to gender.

15th November

 Dr Kimm Curran (School of Critical Studies)

Communities of Medieval Women Religious: Re-assessing Definitions of Gendered Landscapes

Female religious houses and their connected geography of settlement have often been defined as ‘liminal, marginal’—set apart from the world because of gender and difference. This paper will demonstrate how we need to think more carefully of classifying female religious houses, their settlement, foundations, and places as ‘gendered’. These widely connected landscapes were often defined by patronage, geography, time and the wider influence of monastic developments throughout the middle ages. The landscapes of women religious are therefore not entirely gendered. Actions of human beings, secular and religious and the interactions between each other, blur these boundaries of gender. These become contested, conflicted landscapes shaped by the very nature of location and/or patronage, and liminal. These were also sacred/religious landscapes as well as ones of power, authority and community. By making them gendered (seeing as female vs male) we may miss wider themes of how the spaces and places changed over time as well as how place often was a more important factor than gender.

29th November

Dr Nina Enemark 

Recrossing the Ritual Bridge Back to Life: Jane Ellen Harrison’s Ritual Theory and Modernism in the Arts

This paper considers Harrison’s ritual theory of art as part of an intellectual, cultural and aesthetic zeitgeist occurring at the beginning of the 20th century. While centred on ancient Greek culture and art, her specialism as a classicist, Harrison’s work is directly connected to her concerns with religion and art in her own time. Her theory posits ritual as the forgotten origin of art and theology and sees in the modern period a return to this source in both religion and art. I argue that her theory implies a particular aesthetic which speaks to key shifts happening concurrently across the arts in Europe and America, and that the scope of her theory, incorporating insights from a range of fields of study, makes it a useful and unique lens through which to contextualise and view important developments in the arts during this period.

2017 'Ecotheologies and the Arts'

  • 18th January: Prof Michael Northcott (University of Edinburgh), 'Blake and the Beast: The Social and Ecological Crises of Early Industrialism in the Apocalyptic Vision of William Blake'
  • 1st February: Prof Alastair McIntosh, 'Poetic Activism: Invoking God, War and the Faeries'

  • 22nd  February: Dr Em Strang and Dr Samuel Tongue, 'For a Coming Extinction: Ecological Poetry as (Im)Possible (Inter)Connection'
  • 8th March: Dr David Borthwick (Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow),'"A Kindred Shape": Hauntings, Spectres and the Poetics of Return'
  • 22nd March: Dr Rhian Williams (English Literature, University of Glasgow),'Theopoetics as Ecopoetics: Thinking the Ecological Everyday' 

2016 'Medieval Theology Today'

  • 28th September: Prof David Jasper (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), 'Liturgical Language and the Vernacular in Late Medieval England'
  • 12th October: Debbie White (History, University of Glasgow)'"She Was Into S&M and Bible Studies": Medieval Mysticism and the Role of the Body in Encounters with the Divine'; Rachel Lyon (Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow), 'The Nothingnesses of Being Beloved: Reading Catherine of Siena's Dialogue, Chapter 64'
  • 2nd November: Prof Richard Bell (University of Nottingham), 'Wagner’s Use of Germanic and Norse Sources in The Ring of the Nibelung: A Clue to his Christian Theology'
  • 16th November: In Conversation with Dr Pat McIntosh, author of the Gil Cunningham mystery series set in medieval Glasgow
  • 30th November: Dr Louise Nelstrop (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), 'Singing like a Nightgale: Song and Sweetness in Richard Rolle's Contra Amatore Mundi'

2016/17 Spring

26th April: Dr Phil Alexander (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow)
'My Lover, My Murderer’s Daughter': Berlin and the Politics of Klezmer Music

Over the last twenty-five years, Berlin has played host to Europe’s most dynamic klezmer and Yiddish music scene. Careful investigative work of a few isolated musicians and singers in the 1980s mushroomed in the following decade to an enthusiastic embrace of the city’s newly discovered good-time party ethos, raising questions along the way about the contradictions of playing Jewish music in the former epicentre of National Socialism, as well as post-reunification spectres of “virtual Jewishness". These days, the city’s scene attracts a vibrant blend of musicians from around the world, part of a complex and international conversation which takes in rupture and renewal, tradition and innovation, history and modernity. My talk will explore this ongoing journey of Berlin klezmer and the challenges of making the traditional strains of Jewish folk music relevant to a twenty-first century capital city. In particular, I will examine how some Jewish klezmer musicians place a certain view of the city within their music itself, whilst others consciously set their music (and their Jewishness) within the bottom-up, unofficial space of contemporary Berlin.

10th May: Dr Adrian Streete (English Literature, University of Glasgow)
Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and the Rhetoric of Lamentation

The exploration of profound grief in the theatre presents a set of rhetorical and ethical challenges. Can extreme emotion be represented in rational terms? How might utter loss be conveyed by those who remain? Is it possible for the inexpressible to be expressed? Might the unbounded nature of grief be brought back into rational bounds? Shakespeare wrestles with these questions in one of his most intense scenes of loss: Act Three, scene one of The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus (c.1593). It is a scene of almost unbearable pain, pushing to extremes what can be seen, spoken, and endured. This paper examines the generative interplay between the Roman rhetoric of oratory and the biblical rhetoric of lament in this scene. Drawing on early modern and contemporary biblical exegesis of Lamentations, I argue that grief is felt as both inactivity and excess. The surfeit of figurative language used by Titus is a response to this pain, but it also locks him and Lavinia into a continual present that seems disconnected from the past and future. It is only when the Andronici decide to act together that the protagonist becomes able to move from a posture of static lament to one of active revenge. I suggest that Shakespeare uses Lamentations not so much as a ‘source’ text but as a theatrical and philosophical provocation for exploring the idea of lamentation itself.

17th May: Dr Karen E.H. Skinazi (University of Birmingham)
Leaving Orthodoxy, Finding God: Contemporary Jewish Women’s Memoirs 

This talk will examine the recent phenomenon of ex-Orthodox Jewish women’s memoirs. These texts are closely linked, I show, to Muslim women’s memoirs, which similarly promise the reader the story of feminist liberation--with a dash of erotica. I will argue that despite their representation, and, to some degree, content, these narratives are less about breaking free from or sinning against Judaism so much as they are about reimagining Judaism as a space that allows for, and even fosters, empowered womanhood.

Dr Karen E. H. Skinazi is an academic practice advisor and lecturer at University of Birmingham, who is interested in late 19th- through 21st-century ethnic American and women's literature and culture. This talk comes out of her current book project, Women of Valor: Orthodox Jewish Women Troll-Fighters, Crime Writers, and Rock Stars in Contemporary Literature and Culture, forthcoming from Rutgers University Press, 2018.



  • 30th September: Prof Gerard Carruthers (Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow), ‘Religion and Scottish Literature: A Defence of Proddies, Papists and other God-Referencing Ne'er Do Wells’
  • 14th October: Dr Mia Spiro (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), 'Uncanny Survivors and the Nazi Beast: Monstrous Imagination in Holocaust Fiction'. 
  • 11th November: Dr Dawn Llewellyn (University of Chester), ‘"My Books Feel Like My Friends": Women's Spiritual Reading Practices and the Search for Community’
  • 18th November: Prof Carl Lavery (Theatre, Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘Il a fait un temps: Beckett, Ecology and the Time of the Sacred’
  • 13th January: Dr Robyne Calvert (The Glasgow School of Art), ‘Wassailing Mackintosh’
  • 27th January: Dr Graham Maule (Iona Community), ‘Sacred GAMES for the scARrEd and scurrilous’
  • 10th February: Dr Alana Vincent (University of Chester), ‘The Theopolitics of Preservation’
  • 2nd March: Prof Jeffrey Robinson (English Lit, University of Glasgow), ‘The Word Calls Forth the World: Divinity, the Poet, and Romantic Democratic Poetics’
  • 16th March: Dr Ayla Lepine (University of Essex), ‘Singing, Playing, Seeing: Visual Theology and Ninian Comper’s Organ Case for St Mary Magdalene, Paddington’
  • 27th April: Dr Anna Fisk (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘Dis(re)membering Mary Magdalene: Feminist Revisioning at the Empty Tomb’
  • 11th May: Clare Radford (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘I am in the story:, or is the story in me?’: Metafictive Fantastic Literature and Narrative Ethics’; Taylor William Driggers(English Literature, University of Glasgow), ‘Divine Difference: Ethical Alterity in Fantasy Literature’



  • 8th October: Dr Heather Walton (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘Woman in a Red Dress: Pleasure, Politics and Spirituality in New Materialist Theory’
  • 15th OctoberProf George Pattison (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘The Shaking of the Foundations?’ Reflections on Tillich’s Sermons as a Key to His Systematic Theology’
  • 22nd October: Dr Sam Tongue (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘It's not the End of the World: Darren Aronofsky's Noah and IMAX Apocalyptic Ecology’
  • 29th October:  Patrick Madigan SJ (Heythrop Journal), ‘Expressive Individualism, the Cult of the Artist and Milton’s Lucifer.
  • 5th November:Dr Natalie Carnes (Baylor University), ‘Captivating Images, Liberating Images: Iconoclastic iconophilia in Poussin’s Adoration of the Golden Calf
  • 12th November: Dr Anna Fisk (The Glasgow School of Art), ‘Re-imagining the Other-than-Human: Pagan Engagement with Indigenous Animism’
  • 19th November:  Bassam Seah (Univresity of Wales)
  • 26th November:  Prof David Jasper (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘The Four Daughters of God’
  • Jan 21st: 21st Prof Ann Loades (Durham Emeritus), ‘Evelyn Underhill’
  • Feb 4th: Dr Elizabeth Anderson (University of Stirling)
  • March 11th: Deryl Davis (Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow), ‘Symbol, Metaphor, Silence:  Theology Beyond Words’
  • March 25th: Prof Melissa Raphael (University of Gloucestershire), ‘Nostalgia, Trauma and the Numinous: Twentieth-Century Jewish Readings of Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige
  • April 29th: Dr Andrew W. Hass (University of Stirling), ‘Shadowing Art’
  • May 13th: Dr Alison Jasper, (University of Stirling), ‘Hua Mulan’