History of the Conference

History of the Religion, Literature and the Arts Conference at the University of Iowa

The Religion, Literature and the Arts Conference has played a vital role on the University of Iowa Campus: building on the town’s designation as a City of Literature and the history of the Department of Religious Studies as a leader in interdisciplinary work, the conference has become a central hub of conversation for those interested in religion, literature, art, continental philosophy and philosophical theology around the world.

1st conference (10-11 April 2003): Keynotes: David Jasper, S. Brent Plate
2nd conference (02-03 April 2004): Keynotes: David Jasper, Donald Kuspit
3rd conference (2005-2006?)

4th: 2008 (27-29 March): Theology and Critique:
Keynote: Thomas Altizer and David Jasper
5th: 2009 (02-04 April): Reading the Book of Nature: 
Keynotes: Michael Zimmerman and David Jasper
6th: 2010 (09-11 April): Malicious Intentions and Wicked Deeds: Challenging Evil in Thought and Practice
Keynotes: Susan Neiman, David Jasper, Hans Breder
7th: 2011 (26-28 August): Uncanny Homecomings: Narrative Structures, Existential Questions, Theological Visions
Keynotes: David Jasper, Christopher Merrill
8th: 2012 (24-26 August): Futures and Illusions: Hope and the Longing for Utopia:
Keynotes:  Marilynne Robinson and Thomas A. Carlson

9th: 2013 TBA

The Evolution of Religion, Literature and the Arts at the University of Iowa
The history of the Religion, Literature and the Arts Conference at the University of Iowa can be divided into two phases. The initial conferences were organized by David Klemm with the intention of providing a forum for the graduate students at Iowa to discuss religion, literature and the arts. This would provide the graduate students with an opportunity to see the work of their colleagues, and also serve as an occasion for speakers to visit the University of Iowa to indicate the larger issues in the field. Alongside David Klemm, Jessica DeCou was instrumental in organizing the first conferences. The quality of the speakers—David Jasper (who became a traditional anchor of the conference), Donald Kuspit, and S. Brent Plate—drew good crowds, and speakers from across the world were attracted to the fairly small events.

The imprint of David Klemm at this time was clear: the RLA conferences at Iowa would be collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, and would serve both critical and pedagogical work. On the one hand, the conferences would reach out to senior scholars in the field in order to interrogate the interdisciplinary nature of Religion, Literature and the Arts, a goal that has provided  continuity over the years. On the other hand, the emphasis on collegiality—blending graduate students and senior faculty across departmental lines—has provided a dynamic depth to the sessions. The interdisciplinary roots of the conference encourage experienced graduate students and faculty to play, exploring ideas that seem outside of the “regular” work that they do, while younger graduate students are able to gain experience with presentations at a conference. Each year has also emphasized the international scope of the work of Religion and Literature, encouraging scholars from Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, and Australia to visit the University of Iowa Campus.

The second phase of the conference, beginning in 2008, kept these core values of integrity, education, and experimentation alive but added new components. Before becoming conference organizer in 2011, Daniel Boscaljon helped David Klemm organize the 2008 and 2009 conferences, which added three additional features. First, each of these conferences was organized around a particular theme, bringing more clarity and cohesion to the papers beyond the loose interdisciplinary framework that had organized the first three years. These topics are designed to articulate a space at the heart of multiple disciplines that could encourage interdisciplinary pairings and expanded understandings. The second feature was the introduction of the “plenary paper,” which took the form of a series of invited papers from faculty that would approach the topic of that year’s conference from a variety of perspectives. In order to accommodate these papers, the conference expanded from a one day event to a two day—and eventually a three day—affair. Third, the conference also began to incorporate an increased attention on the creative arts—not just critical examinations of literature and the visual arts. 2012’s presentation by Marilynne Robinson will thus continue the tradition that includes Hans Breder and Christopher Merrill.

The third phase of the conference will begin in 2013, as Paul Dilley and Melissa Ann-Marie Curley, faculty in the Department of Religious Studies, will take over responsibility for the continuation of the conference.

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