The Poetics of Faith: Exploring Belief in Modern and Contemporary Poetry

deadline for submissions: 
August 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
University of York

12-14 January 2018, University of York

TS Eliot wrote that ‘[t]he trouble of the modern age is not merely the inability to believe certain things about God and man which our forefathers believed, but the inability to feel towards God and man as they did’. Modern and contemporary poets, faced with the often stark realities of an industrial and post-industrial world, with the two world wars and their moral implications, and with social and economic changes, have found themselves needing to evaluate such new ways of feeling towards God. Grappling with questions of war and exploring the morality of ecology, as Elizabeth Bishop did, seeking the transcendental in the muddy trenches of the First World War, as David Jones did, or sometimes writing with profound awareness of Adorno’s claim that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz’ is barbaric, modern and contemporary poets have been continuously fashioning new ways to feel and think about God. These new ways of believing and feeling are at times fraught with anxiety, as in the case of Geoffrey Hill, and at times pervaded by a newly discovered doctrinal certainty, as in the case of the Australian poet Les Murray.

Thus from Hill’s ‘I say it is not faithless to stand without faith’ to Anne Carson’s ‘[m]y religion makes no sense […] therefore I pursue it’, religion and the sacred have been the subject of lengthy poetic explorations, fuelled by continuing social and historical changes, as well as unrest. As contemporary poetry has grown arguably less scripturally prescriptive and didactic than the religious poetry of previous centuries in its approaches to belief, questions about redemption, knowledge of the divine, and the nature of sin have been allowed to surface in new ways.  This conference invites dialogue on the way in which the poetry written since the late nineteenth century and up to the present time engages with questions of faith and theology. Possible topics may include, but are not restricted to:


  • ‘style and faith’

  • poetry as theodicy

  • non-orthodox expressions of faith

  • violence, memory, and grace

  • doctrinal and social changes

  • Islamic expressions of faith

  • cognition and passion as epistemology

  • Judaic poetry

  • modern and contemporary responses to canonical religious poetry

  • Poetic engagements with Hindu spirituality


Confirmed speakers:

Professor Hugh Haughton (University of York)

Dr Michael D Hurley (St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge)

Poetry readings by Dr Gail McConnell (Queen’s University Belfast) and Dr Zohar Atkins (The Jewish Theological Seminary).

Please send your proposals for 20-minute long panel papers in the form of 250-word abstracts to by 15th August 2017.

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