Centre of Theology and Philosophy Soul Conference: Reflections


Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’m up, if not at ’em, this morning and back in Nottingham after the Centre of Theology and Philosophy’s conference on The Soul. The conference was, in a word, excellent. Never have I attended a conference so large, so full of varying positions on the conference theme (as well as other issues) and yet so friendly and cordial. I made many new friends and got to spend time with some old ones.

My paper was given on Saturday and I am told it went well. I will be submitting for review and hopefully publication with the other conference papers given. I’ll let you know the results of that as well as who the publisher will be once I know.

Both the plenary sessions and the panel sessions were filled with excellent papers. Some of my favourites, in terms of plenary papers, would have to include both David Bentley Hart’s and John Milbank’s which both sought to show that we cannot think of ourselves or the world without a notion of the soul. For both presenters, the soul is not something one has, as if, in kind of Cartesian sense, one could still be a human without a soul, but that to be human is to be made of body and soul and to reflect on this will turn us to see God.

Before John and David, however, there was Iain and Conor. Iain McGilchrist gave an interesting presentation on the brain and the mind. McGilchrist was not wanting to go the direction of fully reductive materialism (I think), but his presentation put most of its emphasis on how the two halves of the brain were split to see things either in parts or as whole. Cunningham’s presentation, however, wanted to insist on why we need to think in terms of soul. For Cunningham (and I’m inclined to agree) pure materialism leaves you in a nihilistic vacuum where nothing can be good or bad. For Cunningham, the soul, and specifically, the Christian understanding of the world is the only way we can truly call things good and bad and have those words mean something.

Marilynne Robinson’s presentation, in part on the need for further beauty in theological writing, was beautifully presented. Robinson speaks with the voice of the unadulterated, the pre-industrialised Midwest. Though I disagreed with her, or at least did not understand her at points, her talk was beautiful. As was the response given by John de Gruchy, which was one of the most charitable responses ever given.

On the last day we heard from both Mary Midgely and later, William Desmond. Midgley, who will be 94 this September, did an excellent job, retaining the vim and vigor of her mind, if not quite her body. Midgely was one of the first to tackle Richard Dawkins back in, I believe, the 1980’s. Desmond rounded out the conference by speaking on Soul Music versus Self Music. As I understood it, the basic point of his presentation is that soul music goes beyond purely the self, that is the individual and connects all to all in expressing our innermost being.

Desmond finished off his presentation, after Milbank gave an excellent response, the fashion you’ll see below.

I definitely didn’t see this coming and was overjoyed when it did. Desmond also mentioned that enjoyed one of my favourite movies from when I was a child, Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

All in all, this was an excellent conference and certainly plan to continue attending them so long as we have the time and money for me to do so.


Preparing for a Conference: Centre for Theology and Philosophy Conference on the Soul


Dear Friends and Family,

This week I and several of my colleagues here at the University of Nottingham are preparing ourselves for this year’s Centre of Theology and Philosophy conference on The Soul. The line-up definitely looks excellent:

Plenary 1: Iain McGilchrist and Conor Cunningham

Plenary 2: John Milbank and David Bentley Hart

Plenary 3: Marilynne Robinson with response from John de Gruchy

An Interview with Mary Midgley in conversation with Graham Ward

Plenary 4: William Desmond and respondents.

Plus a great line-up of parallel sessions, one of which I’ll be presenting in on C. S. Lewis, his science-fiction, the Church Fathers, and, of course, deification.

Therefore, my time this week is going to spent working on my second chapter and refining my presentation for the conference. What this means for me is mornings spent writing one thing, and afternoons spent editing another. Here’s hoping I don’t get the two confused.

Also, perhaps quite apropos for the paper I’m giving, this year’s conference is in Oxford, so you can trust that trips to the Eagle and Child Pub, where the Inklings would meet once a week, will be in my future. I’ll write another post once the conference is over. For now, enjoy the rest of your week as I get ready to confer.