First Conference for the International Society for Heresy Studies - New York University, May 30-31 2014

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International Society for Heresy Studies

The International Society for Heresy Studies announces a Call for Papers for its inaugural conference at New York University, May 30-31, 2014. We will accept proposals for papers, roundtables, and panels on the topic of heresy and/in literature.

By the early 21st century, cultural critics and philosophers began to talk about a "return of religion." By this they sometimes were referring to its persistence and reemergence as a social and political force, and at other times they were talking about what they saw as newfound presence of religion in theoretical and philosophical discourses. Literary theorists soon called out for a similar move. Much of the published work in literature and religion, however, whether confessional or skeptical, tends to treat religion in a reductive manner. Terms like "religion," "Christian," and "God," are left unproblematized and are assumed to have a single fixed meaning. The study of heresy and its relationship to literature helps to destabilize these terms and their usage.

The origins of heresy in the Western world come out of debates around literary practices and devices—allegory, typology, canon formation, authorial intent, and literary influence—so it is not surprising that discourses of heresy are powerful tools in literary study. Like all historical narratives, the history of Christian thought has been constructed as linear, logical, and inevitable. Ways of thinking deemed "heretical," on the other hand, represent radical and unheard ideas, suggest historical directions not taken, and question the borders and definitions of concepts of orthodoxy. The debates over what constitutes heresy have participated in the process of negotiating and constructing issues of language, knowledge, history, textual interpretation, human autonomy, freedom, and subjectivity in the Western world.

This conference will examine the historical and contemporary developments of heretical thought in its dialogue with literature. By exploring points of intersection and divergence, the conference aims to trace the nature of the relationship between these disciplines in the hope of moving towards a new awareness of their complementarity and integrity. The conference welcomes papers on any aspect of heresy and literature or heresy and the arts, with a particular focus on papers that draw multiple disciplines into dialogue. Papers that examine the historical relationships and contexts are welcome alongside papers that explore creative and constructive accounts of heretical thinking. Speakers and attendees working in philosophy, theology, history, literary theory, art history, creative writing as well as working writers, poets, and artists are welcome. We use the term "heresy" in a value-neutral way, neither celebrating nor condemning it, but simply making it a central object of critical inquiry and sober analysis. Heresies can be understood as specific doctrinal deviations from normative articles of faith (Pelagianism, Gnosticism, Docetism, Deism, etc.), as subversive belief systems such as Satanism, as various nontraditional conceptions of the deity, or as intuitive nonconformist stances like misotheism or neo-paganism.

Relevant subjects, themes, and topics might include (but are not limited to):

The theme of heresy and heretics in literature (e.g. James Joyce, C.K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, Milton, Blake, Melville)

Representations of specific heresies in literature (e.g. Eco's The Name of the Rose, Moberg's The Emigrants, Anatole France's The Revolt of the Angels)
The literature of heretical texts (e.g. Book of Thomas, Book of Mormon)
"New atheism" and literature
Heresy and disbelief and/in the sciences
The relationship between theology, heresy, and philosophy (e.g. Žižek, Deleuze, Badiou)
Heresy and the turn to religion in phenomenology
Heretical organizations and literary salons (e.g. Cambridge Heretics Society)
The negotiation of disbelief, heresy, confession, and blasphemy in literature
Representations of religion/heresy in contemporary literature (e.g. Roger's Version, The Book Against God)
Depictions of alternative religious movements and heresies in popular culture (e.g. The Book of Mormon musical, South Park)
Heresy and blasphemy in visual art (e.g. Piss Christ, Sensation exhibition)
Novels of the life of Christ (from Nikos Kazantzakis to Anne Rice)
Heretical theology and literary criticism (Harold Bloom and Gnosticism)
Science fiction and religion/heresy/blasphemy
Representations of Voodoo, Santeria, and Candomble in literature
Heresy and post-colonialism

Send abstracts (300-500 words) to Gregory Erickson ( or
Bernard Schweizer ( by February 15, 2014.

For more information, go to