Reflections and a report on the Grandeur of Reason conference

Posted by on September 8, 2008 at 2:50 pm.

Grandeur of ReasonLast Thursday was the last day of the four-day Grandeur of Reason conference.  [Immediately after returning from the conference my wife and I took a bus down to London to visit a very good friend and I’ll have a separate post on that with pictures later…all of which is why I am only now blogging this.]  I attended with many of the University of Nottingham crew along with a total of over 250 attendees–180 of whom also presented papers.  It was a very, very full conference, and I was definitely put to work.  Unfortunately, there were some papers I was not able to attend that I really wanted to see, but that is what happens in a large conference such as this I suppose.  I’ll attempt to go over some anecdotal highlights of the trip for myself.  I’m looking forward to other blog reports from other perspectives!

I met the rest of the students from the University of Nottingham, including Andrew Thomas (lives in Norway) and Chris Hackett who is now studying at the University of Virginia, not to mention Philip Gorski and Thomas Lynch who is finishing up his MA.

Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Tyson whose PhD adviser wrote a bookback in 1994 which is basically very similar to my own proposed research thesis.  Thing is, I didn’t know about this similarity until a few months after I had already been accepted to the University of Nottingham. I had seen a footnote that Paul gave to his adviser’s book in the recently-released Belief and Metaphysics volume (see p. 412).  Paul had some very encouraging words to say regarding that, and he was a great conversation partner.  I hope to talk to him more and read more of his work.

I had this conversation with Paul on the way to St. Peter’s cathedral on the Sunday before the conference started.  I don’t think I quite realized where we were going because within 90 minutes of arriving in Rome I was standing in front of an amazing sight:

We didn’t have a chance to walk around inside the cathedral because we had to head off to a late lunch and head back to the conference hotel to finish up putting together the packets of information for each delegate.

When the panels started the next morning at 9:00am, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the papers at this conference were top-notch.  Rarely did I hear a paper that disappointed, and most also invited good discussion. The first plenary on Monday evening consisted of a session arranged by Conor of three of his former professors: James Williams, Cyril O’Regan, and Graham Ward.  Of the three, I was really only familiar with the topic of Graham’s paper on ‘Hegel and  the Messianic’ considering my MA thesis was half on Hegel.  I want to be sure and follow up with him about as I am curious to see where his paper was intending to go–he was not able to finish the full implications of the direction of his thought due to time restraints.

The next morning I heard a very interesting panel which consisted of a paper entitled ‘If’ by Darrell Lackey (the only other former resident of central California in addition to myself at the conference); a paper on ‘A NonMisologist Platonism’ and the director Pasolini by Jones Irwin; and a paper by Cornelius Simut on the thought of Edward Schillebeeckx.  It was a surprisingl good panel.  Darrell had never presented a paper at a conference like this before and I would say he performed rather well, and his pastoral perspective was especially welcome.  Jones Irwin’s paper was extremely intriguing regarding the work of Pasolini, and moreover, it was a surprisingly hospitable paper in regards to the conference topic (Tony Baker–the chair of that panel–and I were talking afterwards and definitely wanted to find out more about Pasolini).  Cornelius Simut’s paper on Schillebeeckx was, for me, a helpful and bizarre introduction to the thought of Schillebeeckx.  It was helpful because Simut’s paper was focused on little-known interviews with Schillebeeckx and it was bizarre primarily because of what Schillebeeckx actually believes.  I’m probably the last to know this, but basically, Simut made the comment a couple of times that he was suprised that Hans Kung got censored (or whatever the official word is) but that Schillebeeckx did not, especially considering that Kung is far less radical than Schillebeeckx.

After lunch I was to present a paper with probably a few too many “and”‘s in the title: “The Grandeur and Disenchantment of Reason: Universalism and Irony in Hegel and Kierkegaard.”  The other students in the panel in which I was a part during the Tuesday afternoon student session were of high quality and the question and answer sessions after each were well-informed and lively.  I would have liked to have attended the other Nottingham student papers, but they were all scheduled during the same time slot. After my paper people asked me how it went and all I could really say was, “people tell me it went well.”  I got good questions and people complimented my paper but I honestly still feel like I can’t produce a real opinion on my performance just yet.  So I think it went okay!?

Later that evening was the second plenary with François Laruelle, Michele Lenoci, and Dustin McWherter.  Quentin Meillassoux was actually supposed to be presenting on that panel as well but just a few days before the conference–and after the programmes were printed–his father-in-law passed away and so he could not attend.  I confess a nearly complete ignorance with the thought of these thinkers, so I will just post one picture for now of Laruelle (more later, probably in a post here).

The next morning began with a visit to the Vatican.  Here is Graham Ward (back of his head), John Milbank, and Stanley Hauerwas standing in line:

We were standing in line to see Pope Benedict XVI give an address.  And here he is:

I forget how large the audience was here, but I think it was something slightly below 10,000 people.  Groups from around the world were introduced (“pilgrims from Nigeria…”, etc.), greeting Benedict with songs, flag-waving, cheers, and even brief musical numbers.  And, despite the silly outfits of the Swiss guards (see above), it was a celebratory occasion: the catholicity in the room was apparent.  The pope spoke in maybe 6 different languages, greeting different peoples and giving a brief homily of sorts.  Afterwards, Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank personally greeted the pope and gave him a painting painted by Conor Cunningham’s sister, Sara Cunningham-Bell.

The remainder of Wednesday and Thursday consisted of non-stop panels.  The first one after the Vatican visit was a plenary session with Oliver O’Donovan, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Milbank (chair: Graham Ward).  As was to be expected, it was a varied and lively session:

As well as a session with Daniel M. Bell, Stephen Long, and Michael Budde (chair: Hauerwas…and apologies for the bad white balance on this one):

Thursday was jam-packed with sessions including a session on the three recently-released books in the INTERVENTIONS series of books published by Eerdmans.  The volumes on Naturalism, Žižek, and Heidegger were represented by Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz (pictured far left), Marcus Pound (pictured 3rd from left), and Sean McGrath (pictured far right), respectively, with Pete Candler and Conor Cunningham (pictured 4th and 5th from left) both chairing the session as well as representing themselves as the editors of the series:

The final plenary session was with Giorgio Agamben who spoke on the topics of his recent research on oikonomia and glory in Il Regno e la Gloria (helpful chapter-by-chapter notes can be found here on this work still not translated into English):

I’m still pretty tired from the conference, and there was a frickin’ ton of papers, so much of the sessions are a bit of a blur.  But, despite all the lack of sleep, and despite the fact that it would have been better if all of the attendees could have stayed in one place instead of scattered throughout different hotels/seminaries–I would say it was overall a good conference.  It was especially nice to see friends that I do not see very often such as Craig Keen and many of his former students, as well as the friends I have continued to stay in touch with since Granada in 2006 and the AAR in San Diego last year.  It was also a pleasure to finally meet both the Archbishop of Granada whom I had not met when we were in Granada back then, as well as Dave Belcher–whose paper was quite beautiful (and who I somehow missed meeting at a conference that my pastor organized back in January 2007).

Every night we were up late till 3 or 4am and up again by 9am for the sessions, so while I am sleeping until term starts for me on the 22nd of this month, I look forward to hearing reflections from others who have blogs or who would care to add anything in the comments section below (and unfortunately I just read that Ben Myers got sick, so I am not sure how much of the conference he was able to attend).

As a final note, we plan on posting more pictures (in full resolution), videos of the plenaries + Q&A sessions for each, etc. online sometime soon, so stay tuned here or here for that.