other/conference-support/upcoming-ISLA-conference/Trying to Say "God"/Rational


Trying to Say ‘God’: Reenchanting the Literary Imagination

June 22-24, 2017

University of Notre Dame


In a time when traditional religion is viewed as suspect, passé, or offensive, many authors and artists are uncomfortable talking about their personal religion or spirituality, while others explore new ways to say “God,” to articulate religious truths without being overly didactic, pious or sentimental. In other words, writers who write serious religious literature. These authors seek to reach not only their fellow Catholics but to penetrate an increasingly secular culture—often opposed to Christianity—with Catholic truths. Yet there are fewer avenues open to their work today than there were even fifty years ago. Poet Dana Gioia points out some of the reasons: the increasing secularization of our culture; the relative lack of publishing houses and magazines today that print and review serious Catholic literature (there are some exceptions).

Pope Benedict XVI said that works of art “open the door to the infinite, to a beauty and a truth that goes beyond the ordinary.” Both he and Blessed John Paul II have encouraged the flourishing of all the arts in a great renewal of humanity. Rather than withdraw from the arts as many Catholics and Christians do given the highly secular and even degrading turn the arts have taken in recent decades, they call Catholic artists to lead the way to their renewal and recovery and the building of a new Christian humanism. The late Bishop Thomas Doran says that “Catholic engagement with secular art is more essential than ever.” But how can Catholic faith leaven a culture that seems impervious to the transcendent and which rejects religious traditions? It is crucial that we do so in new ways. In The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis says that every form of catechesis should attend to the “way of beauty.” To do so in the arts, we must “discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particular attractive for others.” At the “Trying to Say ‘God’” conference, we will talk about how writers and artists draw on the Great Tradition of Catholic Art and encourage emerging writers to carry that Tradition into the future, in unique ways, through media both traditional and new.

The Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame—together with Patheos.com, the blog Sick Pilgrim, St. Michael's College in Toronto, and Image: a journal of art, faith, and mystery—will bring together both well-known and emerging writers, artists and musicians who are wrestling with religious experience and traditions in new ways. We will feature authors in all literary genres: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and memoir, fantasy, and science fiction.

Our goal is to reach beyond the usual academic interpreters of culture and appeal to a much broader audience of contemporary working writers and artists of faith. In fact, our hope is to make this gathering a regular biennial event.

In addition to readings and panel presentations, a sacred music performance featuring the work of living composers such as James McMillan and Arvo Pärt will be presented by Notre Dame’s Sacred Music Program. Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art will host tours and a presentation on icon writing by noted iconographer Joseph Malham.

We invite aspiring, emerging, and well-established writers and artists of faith to join us.

Donations and in-kind support for this literary gathering are welcome.  If you or your organization would like to help fund the gathering, please feel free to contact Ken Garcia ( kgarcia@nd.edu ) in the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts.