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The Power of the Word International Conference IV

The Power of the Word International Conference IV

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Event date: Wednesday 17th June, 2:00pm to Saturday 20th June, 4:00pm

Location: Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome

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

Registration will open at 2.00 pm on 17 June (Wednesday). The conference will end on 20 June (Saturday) at 3pm (4.00 pm for those who stay for the General Meeting).

‘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); Professor Paul Murray OP (Angelicum, Rome); Prof. Ben Quash (KCL) and Prof. Dilwyn Knox (UCL).

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.

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.

Registration and booking

Please visit the main conference page for registration and booking information.

Conference programme

Please visit the main conference page for full details of the programme.


Information concerning accommodation for the conference can be found here.

Conference Books

Book cover - God, Value and Nature by Fiona Ellis God, Value, and Nature
Fiona Ellis, Oxford University Press, 2014




Book cover - Poetry and the Religious Imagination Poetry and the Religious Imagination
The Power of the Word
Edited by Francesca Bugliani Knox and David Lonsdale, Ashgate Publishing, 2015




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).

Contact Name: Francesca Bugliani-Knox