8th Annual Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference at the University of Iowa
Futures and Illusions: Hope and the Longing for Utopia
24-26 August 2012
Marilynne Robinson (University of Iowa)
Thomas A. Carlson (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Having explored the question of presence and presents, contextualized around the space of home and the movement of homecoming, the 2012 conference will shift to consider the temporality of futures. Our stories train us to orient ourselves to our futures, to the undiscovered areas and regions that await our arrival within them. Understanding and communicating our visions for the future is a work undertaken by fictional narratives, by political movements and monuments, and by religious communities. Although the qualities of a happy future differ in each of these frameworks, the variety testifies that the hope for an eventual utopia is a widespread human quality. Utopias reveal the desire to find meaning in our capacity to build better futures as groups or communities, seeing our changes as universal and longstanding; however, they also reflect our fear that hopes for justice and peace are based in—or result in—mere illusion. Utopias therefore hover near to us: before we move into them, they already influence how we think about the present in a way analogous to the influence of the past. Visions of a future—eternal or otherwise—have tended to have either a theological or antitheological impulse that allows the utopian future to attain an absolute or eschatological status. Although they are visions of the future, developed in a relative present, utopias nonetheless themselves respond to what has come before in a historical tradition. It becomes necessary for prophets to harness the future into the present through the work of narratives as a way to weave all three temporal strands together.
One conceptual frame arises from the title of Freud’s infamous “Futures and Illusions,” in which he argues that we should desire a future without religion. The hope of a disillusioned world has been echoed recently by the New Atheists, who collectively fault religion for the ills plaguing humanity in the present age. Whether the evidence comes from literature, art, cinema, philosophy, or music, the papers in this section will pose answers to questions such as:
**What future should ideas about God have in framing 21st century societies?
**What role can theology and philosophy play in continuing to construct utopic possibilities?
**What role does the theological virtue of “hope” play in motivating us toward Godly or godless futures?
Papers in this panel might consider reflecting on the nature of hope as depicted in a systematic theologian (Aquinas, Barth, Tillich), by a classic post-Christian thinkers (Feuerbach, Freud, Nietzsche, Marx), by current theologians (Altizer, Caputo, Ricoeur, Taylor, Vattimo, Nancy), or even new atheists (Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens) or their critics (Eagleton, Robinson).
The most recent expressions of utopian beliefs seem to have been modulated through a fundamentalist framework, where the utopic vision comes after violence (physical or legislative in nature). Other utopian societies and collectives, however, have chosen alternative ways to gather as communities, with different hopes and different visions of the future. Again, using a variety of archival, textual, artistic, theological or literary sources for the foundation of your argument, papers in this section will attend to questions such as:
**What hopes have served as the foundation for utopian communities or societies in the past?
**What were the effects on people whose utopian hopes were shown only to be an illusion?
**What roles have history, memory or ritual played in contextualizing, organizing and determining what values organize utopic visions of the future?
Exemplary historical communities could range from the very recent visions of a world contextualized by radical Islamic theocracy, by capitalistic American democracy, by Marxist or Communist organizations. Other historical visions would also be appropriate—Nazi Germany, the Puritan experiment in America, Calvin’s Geneva, the French Revolution.
Future worlds founded in narrative productions exist in the world of mere possibility. In the 20th and 21st centuries, these visions of a future world have often merged with science in dreaming of new imaginaries for our utopic dreams. Whether one looks to science fiction, to literary theory, or to philosophy, the papers in the narrative section will question things like:
**From Plato to More to Bellamy, authors have generally depicted utopian societies with irony. Is it even possible to have an earnest hope for a concrete utopia, or are utopias doomed to be always only in the future?
**Why has science been able to successfully exist as the center of how we construct narratives of the future?
**Why are narratives necessary to the production or formulation of something that we can identify as a desirable future?
Many science fiction films and narratives would be wholly appropriate to consider here, as would theory about utopian visions (Jameson) or the role played by technoscience for the past 70 years (Hales, Milburn). One also might consider looking to narrative theory on possible worlds (Currie, Ronen) or the relationship between narrative and time (Ricoeur).
Submission of Abstracts:
Session papers should be 20 minutes long, with 10 minutes reserved for questions and answers. Please submit your abstract into the most appropriate of the categories listed above. Each topic has a set of questions designed to helpfully frame the themes of papers for the most productive interchange; naturally, these will not all be addressed in any one paper, and it is not necessary that a paper answer any of them in particular. Submit paper title and an abstract of no more than 350 words, along with your name, institutional affiliation (if applicable), telephone number, and email address by 05 April 2012. Send abstracts and questions to: UIowaRLA@yahoo.com. Information about featured speakers, abstracts, schedules and other questions will be addressed at: http://uiowarla.blogspot.com/
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