News and Events

“Christianity and Culture and Criticism and …”


The Villanova Center for Liberal Education (VCLE) and the Augustine and Culture Seminar Program (ACSP) are committed to the abiding importance of the deep relationship between liberal arts education and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. VCLE and ACSP show this commitment through the Augustine and Culture Seminar (ACS), the Liberal Studies Graduate Program, and the many cultural events and speakers VCLE and ACSP bring to campus.

In that spirit, I am happy to announce a conference under the direction of VCLE and with the aid of ACSP. The conference, provisionally entitled “Christianity and Culture and Criticism and …,” aims to bring together scholars whose work bridges the divide between literary (or art historical) criticism and Christian theology. The conference will take place on Thursday November 13 and Friday November 14 on Villanova’s campus.

Scott Moringiello (ACSP) first proposed a variation of this idea to Anthony Domestico (assistant professor of English, SUNY-Purchase). Moringiello and Domestico came to know each other through writing about Christianity and literature for Commonweal magazine. Moringiello proposed the idea to Professor John Doody (VCLE), who gave his enthusiastic support. Moringiello and Domestico are currently lining up plenary speakers, and once they receive commitments from those plenary speakers they will extend invitations to professors and critics who write in this area. We especially look forward to asking Villanova professors if they would be interested in speaking or in helping to run the conference. Of course, Villanova students, faculty, and staff will be invited to the discussions.

There is an excellent tradition of scholarship that explores the theological dimensions of artists whose work clearly involves themes in Christian theology.[1] This conference does not plan to add to that discussion. Instead, this conference would focus on contemporary writers and artists whose work at first glance does not appear to have Christian themes. The basic argument of the conference will be that there are important contemporary artists whose work can be illuminated by attending to the implicit theological themes found in their work. The goal is not to offer Christian theology as some master key to unlock these works of art, but instead to show how the Christian (and at times specifically Catholic) intellectual tradition helps us to understand the culture in which we live. Not only can Christian theology inform our understanding of contemporary culture, Christian theology can help inform our contemporary cultural criticism. That is, another goal of the conference will be to show how criticism itself may well borrow from Christian theology.

A few words of definition are in order. First, although there is field of “religion and literature,” this conference will focus specifically on Christian themes. Such a focus will help direct our conversations and save the participants from wading into the often-amorphous category of “religion.” Second, the conference understands “culture” broadly. Although there will, no doubt, be a focus on literary works, the conference welcomes discussions on film, music, and the visual arts. The conference’s goal is to show how Christianity can help make sense of all forms of cultural production, even in those artists who show no explicit interest in Christianity.[2] And third, the conference mentions “criticism” on purpose. By discussing “criticism” and not “scholarship,” the conference hopes to include writers who might be working outside the traditional confines of the academy, but whose work in magazines and on the internet have explored some of these issues.

The VCLE has taken up the vital discussion of the place of the humanities in higher education. This conference aims to showcase VCLE and ACSP at their best: dedicated to enduring questions in the liberal arts, engaged in the Catholic intellectual tradition, committed to including others to their conversations, and focused on bringing historical questions to bear on contemporary concerns with the Villanova community in mind.

Scott D. Moringiello

Augustine and Culture Seminar Program

January 27, 2014

[1] Obviously, the list here is long, but one can think immediately of the important scholarly work that has been done showing the importance of Christian theology for a medieval poet like Dante, a Renaissance painter like Titian, a modernist poet such as TS Eliot, or a twentieth century fiction writer such as Flannery O’Connor.

[2] Needless to say, the phrase “no explicit interest in Christianity” is purposely question-begging.