ACLA Seminar: Figuring the Sacred in a (Post-)Secular World

deadline for submissions: 
September 21, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
ACLA Conference 2018, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
contact email: 

In his 1938 essay, “Figura,” Erich Auerbach asserts that a figura, unlike an eidosconveying static form, is inherently invested in a relation to time. As Auerbach's use of the figure was polemically mobilized in order to undermine the manufactured barbarism of fascist philology in his time, so might the figure in yet other chronotopes direct readership to structures of barbarism, power, or erotic desire, for example, and their material and philosophical lineages in the world.

In this panel, we will interrogate the importance of sacred figures in literature and film across a broad spectrum of definition by turning to their dual separation from and discursive presence within their respective worlds. For example, while Agamben's homo sacer of archaic Roman law may lead to an understanding of the sacred in terms of ‘nuda vita’ (‘bare life’) as it relates to sovereign power through exception, other iterations of the sacred seek to (re)connect it with the divine. While sacred figures may, as in the writing of Simone Schwarz-Bart, serve to connect various characters in a shared body or spiritual lineage, historical and literary figures might just as easily be sacralized as any from within a religious tradition, as one finds in the 'cult' worship of Sappho in literary salons of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or present-day American constitutional readings that model themselves on interpretive practices once reserved for the Christian bible. Still others may reintegrate sacred systems of thought or worship through a secularized practice, opening a figure like Saint Paul (Pasolini), the Star of Redemption (Rosenzweig) or the Jewish Messiah, as Kafka or Benjamin do, to newly politicized or aestheticized forms of consideration.

How do sacred figures in these cases either disrupt the worlds through which they travel or indicate wider systems of relation toward which we can draw our attention? How do they figure into a secular or post-secular world when the value of the sacred or of secularity, as scholars such as Saba Mahmood and Talal Asad remind us, can remain so disputed to this day? We welcome submissions that consider the sacred figure along these manifold and often contradictory lines of thought.

Please submit a proposal of no more than 300 words via the ACLA portal: 

View the CFP on the ACLA website here: 

Any further questions can be directed to