Friday, January 16, 2009

Durham Conference: Jan. 13, 14 2009

Postgraduates at the University of Durham organized and hosted a conference on interdisciplinarity in theology and religion (Subtitle: How to Tie Knots that Will Hold). I was able to attend the two days of the conference (Jan, 13, 14) and had a wonderful time.
Sarah Coakley gave an excellent keynote address on her own experience as an interdisciplinary researcher. She has had a fascinating career as a researcher that has included projects with the Mind, Brain, Behavior group at Harvard as well as a recent collaborative project with the game theorist Micheal Nowak. Look out for an upcoming book co-written by Coakley and Nowak that has the potential to change the landscape of research in the area of science and religion. Also, she recently edited a book on pain that I am hoping to read at some point, and I recommend it to anyone else interested in the subject.

The conference was composed of primarily post graduate students (my guess is about 60). There was lots of time (although more would have been nice) to get to know one another and hear about each other's research interests. Because of the nature of the conference everyone was doing such different and unique things. There were projects ranging from the more traditional (such as The Role of the Holy Spirit in Deification in Athanasius) to the more popular interdisciplinary areas (such as my own project on the analogy between divine and human creativity, Church and Empire, music and theology) to the unique and unusual (such as Christian belief and the popular UK practice of woodland burial, how christians watch reality tv, and angelology as a necessarily interdisciplinary discipline). Everything was fascinating and there was a general sense of curiosity about one another's projects that pervaded the conference.

I also had the opportunity to present my own work in the form of a paper titled, "Is Creation the Expression of the Creator? An Exploration in Theology, Art, and Philosophy. " (click on title to read paper) This is the first time that I have presented a paper at a conference, and I was very happy with the way that it went. The discussion time afterward, which seemed to last a long time (there had to have been at least 15 questions/comments) went well and I received a good response and good constructive criticism. I really enjoyed the question time. It was fun to have people interact with my research and have the opportunity to respond and dialogue.

Two friends of mine from St Andrews also presented papers: Paul Warhust (on Kierkegaard as a Matthew scholar) and Christian George (on Pilgrimage as a locus of interdisciplinary study). I unfortunately did not attend Paul's, but I am sure it was excellent. I did attend Christian's, and I know his was excellent. He has got me thinking about how to appropriate prilgimage as a metaphor and christian practice today, as well as wishing that I had keynote on my pc so that I too can have graphics that make the other presenters salivate with longing.

Speaking of longing:

I also fell in love with Durham while we were there. Emily, Jonah, and I stayed in a great little bed and breakfast called the Chestnut Villa. The oldest portion of town is situated on a hill inside a bend in the beautiful river Wear. Durham Cathedral (more than 1000 years old) dominates the landscape, along with the castle that is connected to it. I could have spent two days inside the cathedral instead of the conference. The sense of scale produced by the walls that seem to shoot up and soar overhead is overwhelming. There were a number of stain glass windows of immense size and intricacy. And in one portion of the cathedral are a number of more contemporary art installations, including a massive pieta that is utterly captivating, evoking the deepest sorrow and tragedy alongside the glimmer of hope and resurrection.
Overall it was a great trip, even though a number of logistical things went wrong. Emily may comment on these in her blog post, but I won't go into them here.  Here are a few more pictures that Emily won't show you:

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