Call for Papers (Archived)

The 17th Biennial Conference for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture

University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Belgium

Re-Imagining Human

18-20 September, 2014

CALL for PAPERS (Deadline for all proposals: 30 April 2014)

The call for papers has now closed. For information on registration and bursaries, click here. A full programme will be available in July 2014.

In 2014 we remember the beginning of the Great War, emblematic of the catastrophes that scattered every humanist illusion in the twentieth century. Our conference will take up the challenge of retrieving a sense of humanity. Re-Imagining Human wants to invite every participant to rethink the meaning of whatever ‘human’ might be. The omission of the definite article means exactly this: no ‘the’, no definition, no containment.

Contemporary culture and theory seem to be moving in two directions. One response is an embrace of the human condition as radical finitude and vulnerability. In literature and the arts, this finds expression, for example, in new forms of requiem and vanitas motifs. A multitude of voices from gender theory, post-colonialism, trauma studies, disability studies and theological anthropology are critical of the Modern view of ‘human’ for its denial of corporality, materiality and historicity, which are markers of human frailty and mortality.

A second trend aims at transcending our human limits. Both “high literature” (e.g., C.S. Lewis, Michel Tournier, David Mitchell, etc.) and popular culture (films, graphic novels, etc.) are crowded with golems, zombies, cyborgs, vampires, and other sub-human or super-human creatures. This imagination resonates partly with bio-medical dreams of a post-humanist future. Will technology realize ancient religious visions of human perfection? Or is it feeding phantasms that endanger our very being? Another challenge is the emergence of disciplines like genomics, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology: will the human mystery finally be deciphered?

Both the recognition of vulnerability and the search for transcendence are often motivated by a commitment to the humane. Re-imagining human, between the defective and the heroic (or in German, Mängelwesen and Übermensch), provokes key terms of religious anthropologies – creation and fall, contingency and the absolute, kenosis and resurrection, sin and redemption, damnation and grace, etc.

Proposals for short papers (presentations of 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of interaction) are welcome for each of the panels listed below. For further information concerning any particular panel, please contact the panel convenor mentioned in the particular subsection.

The deadline for submission of abstracts for any of the panels is 30 April 2014.

Biblical Studies

Panel convenor: Mette Bundvad

This panel welcomes papers that explore the construction and presentation of humanity in biblical texts, as well as in the reception of these texts. Papers may, for example, discuss biblical notions of selfhood or collective identity. We especially encourage papers that explore how the biblical imagination addresses the limitations of human existence – whether to transcend these limits or simply to give voice to our experience of them.

The theme of humanity in the Bible may also be approached from the perspective of reception studies. Thus this panel welcomes papers too that explore how later receptions (in literature, art, film etc.) problematize biblical humanity.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Mette Bundvad before 30 April, 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.

Continental Philosophy and Religion

Panel convenors: Andrew Hass and Daniel Whistler

Humanisms have driven various modern agendas since the great reforms and counter-reforms of 16th Century Europe. Modern continental philosophy, at least since Descartes, has never not embraced a humanist position, in one form or other, if not least because the continental shift that was Cartesianism redrew the frame of reference from which one initiates philosophical enquiry. If this shift – from the divine to the human – demands a human reckoning all the more, that reckoning has not been without its difficulties and criticism, its fractures and divisions, whether at the level of individual consciousness, subjectivity, and autonomy (as Human Being), or at the level of collective unity, spirit and freedom (as Humanity). Since Nietzsche, the crises have dilated, and since the Great War, irreversibly. Today, continental philosophy continues to wrestle with the resultant dilemma: how to account for the “human” in a manner that admits its conceptual and practical frailty and division, if not its outright failure, and yet that still justifies its need to be accounted, even if accounted against itself. This panel will explore how that dilemma hinges on imaginative human reworking, whether through literature, art, theology, hermeneutics, or various forms of theoretical and critical discourse. But it will also entertain questions concerning the inhuman, and whether a revisioning of religion or theology could accommodate human negation, as through, for example, recent appeals to transhumanism, bleak metaphysics or, in critical theory, accelerationism.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Andrew Hass and Daniel Whistler before 30 April, 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.


Panel convenor: S. Brent Plate

Cinema has long reimaged and reimagined humans from a variety of perspectives, provoking new ways of thinking, outrage, and/or joy. From Metropolis to The Matrix, the limits of technology are seen through human-machine relations. The construction and deconstruction of human identity through memory is a relentless theme in the films of Alfred Hitchcock (Spellbound, Vertigo), Christopher Nolan (Memento, Dark Knight), and Chris Marker (La jetee, Sans Soleil), among others. Monsters of all sorts (vampires and zombies, as well as those that are the product of bio-accidents like Godzilla and Pacific Rim) and aliens show us what lies outside our known existence. Apocalyptic films too, by representing our current cultural fears (contagion, nuclear war, technology run amok) show a human-defined edge. Each in its own way ultimately turns the camera lens back on humans, even as they imagine what might exist beyond.

Papers for these sessions are invited on any theme that explores the relations of human and cinema. This may be by looking at a specific director, specific films, or broader theoretical points applied across films. At the same time, we invite papers that explore the effects of cinema on the human body, above and beyond content. How is cinema a medium, to use McLuhan’s phrasing, as an “extension of man”? And what are the effects of the medium on what it means to be human? How do the senses of cinema reconstitute and re-situate human life?

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to S. Brent Plate before 30 April, 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.


Panel-convenor: Dana Mills

Never precarious: Materialism/humanism in literature and theology

In this panel we will explore the humanist/materialist divide in its contemporary incarnation and more specifically, contemporary articulations of the renewed debate between materialists and humanists in humanities. Following Judith Butler’s new humanism epitomized in Precarious Lives, Frames of War and Antigone’s Claim, and the recent contribution to the “new humanism” by Bonnie Honig in her Antigone, Interrupted, and on the other hand, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter and Diana Coole and Samantha Frost’s New Materlialisms, the debate between humanists and materialists has been re-invigorated and re-loaded with contemporary issues and exported anew into various disciplines. This panel focuses on the consequences of the contemporary debate for gender theory and specifically for new work in theology and in literature which explores the tension between the material and the human. The panel seeks to answer questions such as: what are the conceptual implications for a humanistic/materialistic stance for positions regarding gender in current work in theology and literature? What are the ethical implications of this discussion? How have both these fields reacted to this philosophical debate within their disciplinary discourse, and how has this reaction related to differing positions on gender and sexuality?

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Dana Mills before 30 April, 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.

Higher Education

Panel-convenor: Marije Altorf

Re-imagining human through the practice of dialogue

The notion of dialogue denotes a range of diverse practices. Dialogues have been proven to be the means of averting disaster between warring parties, but the promise of dialogue has also been an empty gesture. Dialogues were central to the teaching of the Academy and a variation of these has seen become again widely practiced in the 20th century. What is it to have a genuine dialogue? And what does practice presuppose or reveal about our humanity?
This panel proposes to consider the conference theme of re-imagining human through the practice of dialogue. It welcomes contributions that address the questions though their own practice of dialogue.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Marije Altorf before 30 April, 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.


Panel-convenor: Marianne Schleicher

In the 20th and 21st century, Jewish thinkers such as Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler have described the human being as vulnerable, considering human vulnerability a platform of hope for humanity. This panel calls for papers that attempt to characterise and explain these and other late modern perspectives within Judaism dealing with human vulnerability and its consequences for religion, literature, and culture – maybe reflecting on how they relate to earlier perspectives in Jewish history on being human and therefore vulnerable.

Wishing to address late modern human identities as well, this panel also invites papers on identities in the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic literature, and later Jewish religious texts, rituals, other performances, and websites that transcend what is intelligible as human. How do such portrayals of super-, sub-, trans-, and post-human identities in Jewish tradition – recalling images of e.g. the sons of God (Gen 6:1-4), the suffering Job (Job 2:8-10), God as androgyne (Gen Rab 8:1), metal beasts (Dan 2:32-35), golemim (bSanhedrin 38b), and healing men of God (1 Reg 17) – transcend, contribute to and challenge our visions of what it means to be human?

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Marianne Schleicher no later than 30 April, 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenors.

Liberation Theology

Panel-convenor: Jacques Haers

Patterns of Resistance and Resilience in a Zombie-World

This panel targets (a) the use of the metaphor “Zombie” to describe the actual situation of a one-sided, neo-liberal capitalist understanding of market mechanisms on a global scale and in the concreteness of societies; and (b) how literatures, cultures and religions offer resources (as expression of their resilience) to resist the zombification of our world. We welcome contributions on the use of the metaphor “zombie” as well as on resistance and resilience, such as for example in the Occupy movement.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Jacques Haers before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.


Panel-convenor: Elisabeth Jay

‘Reimagining human’ invites both responses that address wider disciplinary implications for the interplay of literature and theology, and those that pay detailed attention to the way in which the conference themes inflect particular works.
If the literary/theological has from its inception often manifested itself in ‘ancestral voices prophesying war’, does the postmodern consciousness have anything genuinely new to offer, or does it implicitly underwrite a new ‘myth of progress’ which sees past ‘human imaginings’ as inadequate to articulating post-1914 conditions?
If the conference title, ‘Reimagining human’, defies acts of ‘definition’ and ‘containment’, where does that leave literary expression which shapes and forms, and is always historically-situated?
The panel will also welcome proposals for papers which address the way in which individual authors or works have attempted, over the centuries, to grapple with the theological issues involved in ‘reimagining human’.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Elisabeth Jay before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.


Panel-convenor: Nils Holger Petersen

Re-Imagining Music for Humanity

The beginning in 1914 of the global destructive wars of the twentieth century also points to a modern break-down of general human optimism and the rise of modernism in the arts as well as (in a certain sense) theology. In classical music culture one may for instance point to the death of Gustav Mahler in 1911 and his struggle to come to terms with human finitude as well as the new beginnings of atonal music at about the same time leading further to twelve-tone composition in the 1920s and the experimental avant-garde of the post Second World War Darmstadt school. These connections have been explored by Theodor W. Adorno and Thomas Mann (and others, of course). Also in the more traditional (sometimes medievalistic) modernism of Benjamin Britten, similar struggles with the human condition and man’s responsibilities are found not least in his War Requiem (1962) based on Wilfrid Owen’s poems from the First World War and the Latin Requiem Mass, as well as experiences of the Second World War and the ensuing cold war.
Western music cultures have often recurred to, especially but not exclusively Jewish-Christian, religious traditions in order to deal with grand existential questions of modernity. This is clear from the cultural importance of a critical biblical reception in music, indeed in all genres of music including so-called popular music, often through receptions of medieval, especially Latin, liturgy.
Although this is by no means the only way music has been re-imagined and re-shaped for the human world, such a reception history – sometimes involving radical revaluations or reinterpretations – is marked by a fundamental continuity underlying many deep changes. May later and modern (human) musical traditions be understood to have preserved a Boethian ideal of musica humana, even if no longer a straight-forward belief in Boethius’ sixth-century thought concerning music’s ability to harmonise the human soul and body, and the rational and irrational in the soul? And, if this ideal is no longer seen as possible, has it then become music’s role at least to deplore that?
The music panel welcomes proposals dealing with historical, including contemporary, music or ideas about music in such a perspective of “human music” or “music for humanity.”

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Nils Holger Petersen before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.

Postcolonial Literature

Panel-convenor: Helga Ramsey-Kurz

“For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades,” Frantz Fanon concluded in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) “we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.” This panel welcomes papers exploring how postcolonial literature has been resonating with Fanon’s vision of a postcolonial future, what (ethical) limitations it has encountered in the process and what innovative models of being in the world it has nonetheless managed to advance.
Participants in the panel may also wish to address how such new models may have helped postcolonial critique to develop alternatives to the euro-humanism it opposes and to complement the historical revisionism to which it has always been committed by a more visionary stance in order to move beyond its characteristic attitude of “respect for [past] human suffering” (Appiah 1992) to one of responsibility for the future “healing, […] continuance and survivance” of a globally connected humankind (Krupat 2000).

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Helga Ramsey-Kurz before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.

Religion and Modernity

Panel-convenor: Erik Borgman

It is common place to characterize modern theology by its anthropological turn. God is no longer the starting point and the center of its focus, but the human being. However, it is a rather specific image of what it is to be human that takes center stage in the received image of modern theology: the strong, united, self-reflective subject. It could be argued that this image is in rather strong tension with the Christian imagination that says about the suffering, dying Christ: Ecce homo. It could also be argued that in religion in general it is not the power of subjectivity that takes center stage, but the weakness of subjection. During the course of the modern era, alternative images of what is means to be human have been developed, both in literature and the arts, and in theology. This panel will concentrate on these alternative images of the human and human nature, presented by often marginal theologians and avant-garde artists, social activists and creative pastors.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Erik Borgman before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.

Theological Humanism

Panel-convenor: Daniel Boscaljon

The theological humanism sections will explore ways of re-imagining human through a theological lens. This section invites three types of proposals. First, we welcome papers that explore how works in continental philosophy and theology over the past 50 years provide resources for re-imagining human in terms of finitude and vulnerability. These papers would approach theological humanism as a “third way” that can embrace an immanent, humbled (but not humiliated) theological anthropology. We welcome works that build on Klemm, Schweiker, Ricoeur, Kearney, Vattimo, Milbank, Marion, and Nancy. Using thinkers gifted in expanding the potency of the human and God, how might theological humanism work to “re-imagine human” in terms of its paradoxical potentialities?
Secondly, we welcome papers that explore the humanities to “re-imagine human” potentialities in order to offer a theological diagnosis of crises humans face in the 21st century. Specifically, we welcome papers that explore how art works re-imagine human as inhuman, nonhuman, subhuman and superhuman and then diagnose how these concrete exemplars symptomatically indicate creative ways of inhabiting a godless world. Building on the current cultural fascination with alternative “humans,” what theologies are presupposed or newly generated?
Finally, we welcome papers that provoke an understanding of the place of “God” in “re-imagining human”—especially given the fact that our secular age has reached its point of full maturity relative to an embrace and emphasis on calculative thought and instrumental reason. Facing a public demonstrating increased skepticism and apathy regarding matters deemed important by theologians and humanists, what work can a concept of “God” still do?

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Daniel Boscaljon before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenors.

Visual Arts

Panel-convenor: Aaron Rosen

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in 1967, “our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” In this panel we will investigate how contemporary art and architecture preserve, challenge, and redefine our sense of what it means to be human, especially in an urban context. We will pay special attention to the way in which the arts “re-imagine human” by drawing upon religious themes and actions. Sample topics might include how works of art probe the logic of the Incarnation, what ritual actions are prompted by recent memorials, or how the design of new sacred spaces impacts worship. Paper proposals are welcomed on a range of topics, with an emphasis placed on creativity and topics which lend themselves to visually engaging presentations. Artists as well as academics are welcome to submit proposals.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Aaron Rosen before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenor.

Theology of Love (Anthropos)

Panel convenor: Julia Meszaros

Anthropos is a Leuven-based research group seeking to develop a theological anthropology that brings traditional Christian understandings of the human being into conversation with contemporary perspectives. The theme of love constitutes a particular focus of this conversation, to which scholars from all disciplines are invited to contribute in the form of a paper.
That we can only ‘(re-)imagine human’ in relation to ‘love’ is, on the one hand, a Christian claim. By identifying God as love and affirming that human beings are created in the image of God, Christianity suggests love to be definitive for our humanity. That love lies at the heart of what it means to be human is, however, also underlined by contemporary popular culture. There is no other theme that pervades contemporary literature, music, and film more.
Love’s universal appeal, then, and its appearance in disparate discourses about what it means to be human, implies a unique potential: the theme of love would seem to constitute an obvious bridge between religion and the wider culture. Instead, however, it appears frequently to be used to the opposite effect, with one side accusing the other of getting love wrong. The attempt to develop more constructive perspectives on love’s role in our human identity is not helped by the fact that, apart from some exceptions (e.g. Simon May’s Love: A History (2012); Werner Jeanrond’s A Theology of Love (2010); Jean-Luc Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon (2007)), academic discourse has tended to belittle the concept’s academic credence.
By contrast, spiritual literature has been more willing to embark on a serious engagement with the notion of love. Spiritual writers and mystics from Julian of Norwich to Elizabeth of the Trinity and Henri Nouwen form a steady strand of thought that has sought to uncover love’s existential relevance to our humanity. Now joined by non-Christians such as Alain de Botton, such and other writers on love and the human being often offer enticingly holistic anthropologies that successfully embrace both human vulnerability and the human capacity for transcendence. Yet their ideas can also serve to reinforce anti-material, escapist inclinations or encourage an extension of the contemporary ethic of management, efficiency and self-satisfaction to the inner life.
Against this background, this panel invites papers engaging the question of the way in which love is—or is not—constitutive for ‘re-imagining human’.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Julia Meszaros before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenors.

Religious and Inter-Religious Studies

Panel convenor: Alana M. Vincent

The story of modernity has been the story of humanity’s slowly-unfolding discovery of, and struggle with, its inherent plurality. Such plurality encompasses race, gender, culture, sexuality—and religion. This panel invites papers that specifically focus on 1) the category of religion as constitutive or reflective of human being and 2) the role that inter-religious encounter has played in expanding definitions of ‘human’. Topics may include, but are not limited to: “reasonable accommodations” and shared public space; the narrative of conflict between religious practice and human rights; portrayals of the religious Other in art and literature.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Alana M. Vincent before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenors.

The Metamorphosis of Christianity in Art and Literature

Panel convenor: Willie van der Merwe

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Deconstruction of Christianity

This panel seeks to explore current trends in the self-understanding of Christianity through the lense of the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s thought-provoking project of a ‘deconstruction of Christianity’. It wants to do so by looking at how Christian themes are present in modern art, literature and in their history. Whether it be poetry, novels, painting and theatre, all these practices have always been instances in which the understanding of the human and the religious has received new figurations.
This panel invites papers dealing with the thought of Nancy on the current metamorphosis, mutation or renewal of Christianity, whether it be through some sort of resentment (e.g. atheism in the arts) or contemporary rephrasings and prophecies about the future of Christian religion in a secular age. The panel seeks to address both the persistence and the many faces of Christianity in a post-secular world.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Willie van der Merwe before 30 April 2014.
For further information concerning this panel, please contact the panel convenors.