Science fiction, religion, theology (Lille)

Study day

“Science fiction, religion, theology”

Call for papers

Study day of April 21, 2021

Catholic University of Lille

organized within the Ethics laboratory (EA 7446) – Ethics, technology and transhumanism chair

Modalities : in webinar

Scientific committee :

  • Ugo Bellagamba (Côte d’Azur University)
  • Franck Damour (Catholic University of Lille)
  • David Doat (Catholic University of Lille)
  • Dominique Foyer (Catholic University of Lille)
  • Carole Guesse (University of Louvain)
  • Jessica Lombard (University of Eastern Piedmont)
  • Jean-Guy Nadeau (University of Montreal)
  • Tyler Reigeluth (Catholic University of Lille)
  • Natacha Vas-Deyres (Bordeaux Montaigne University)

Argument :

Without being totally absent, religion and theology are fields which are little invested in contemporary forms of fiction. Such an observation does not hold up against works of science fiction which abound in theological and religious references. Science fiction literature makes frequent use of the repository of religious beliefs and practices, their roles in societies, their relationships with identities, and the way in which they encode relationships with the world and with others. But they also frequently deal with theological questions: the gods are often present, or forms of life whose characteristics (omniscience, omnipresence, eternity) bring them closer to the gods; more generally, many science fiction novels, films and series script forms of the sacred, allow us to ask metaphysical questions on the origin of things and their finality, on Good and Evil, on finitude, on death and beyond, etc. So many themes that theology takes care of. These questions are sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, and are not at all marginal: Olaf Stapledon, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislas Lem, Greg Bear, Dan Simmons, Pierre Bordage, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card … the list seems endless. Should we see in it an interest of circumstances or an element specific to the approach of science fiction? Gérard Klein, in his preface to the anthology Divine stories, supports the second hypothesis: “It may seem strange that Science-Fiction, soaked in positive science, has sometimes found a source of inspiration in theology. But on closer inspection, this is an inevitable encounter. (…) Science-Fiction readily borders on the delirium of interpretation, and were it not for its assertive character of fiction, it would sink into it altogether. Now what field offers more than theology a vast and definitive field for questioning, speculation and interpretation! »(Librairie Générale française, Paris, 1983, p. 5)

How to explain this religious tropism of science fiction? Is the interest in religions the fruit of the forward-looking approach of science fiction? Is it linked to a literary nature based on a “problematization” of the world, seeking to provoke philosophical astonishment? Is this the logic of his project of global construction of the world without having to worry about disciplinary categories, calling into question the human condition in its biological, political, social, cultural and spiritual dimensions?

Or is it through the injunction of coherence imposed by the construction of new worlds? As it is a question of rationally imagining the future or alternative behavior of human or non-human groups, the place of religion can only appear as an element of cohesion or mobilization. Therefore, how does this relate to science or technology, which we know were formed in a complex way with religion, in counterpoint, sometimes breaking, also in continuity? Opening up to a potentially infinite space-time, science fiction develops narratives on the scale of the cosmos, of strictly mythological dimensions. Is religion mobilized for its cosmological dimension, its capacity to invent universes whose fictional effectiveness depends on their plausibility, or for its own interest? Religion, or theology, do they interest science fiction because they are close to cosmology and reflection on its meaning, its origin and its destination, if only to rule out or adopt the hypothesis of a creative divinity or as one with the world? Or is this proximity linked to the radical decentring of science fiction which makes it a literature open to mystery?

And, in return, what does science fiction tell us about religion? The reflection of science fiction is all the more interesting as it can free itself from any reproduction of reality while having to be realistic: imagined religions thus appear as many thought experiments which have a mirror effect. about our beliefs and denials. This freedom also makes it possible to bypass the question of religious pluralism, which is present de facto, because science fiction does not most often deal with present religions, but with religions that either do not exist or are related to the religions that we know, but in ways that differentiate them. Does it not therefore deliver, by its detours, lessons on the place of the sacred, the theological and religions in our world?

Axes :

Contributions may focus on the relationships between science fiction, religion and theology through various forms of fiction (novels, films, series, comics, video games). They can either take an interest in singular works, or offer a transversal or encompassing perspective. They may relate as much to the way in which religion and theology are treated by works of science fiction as to the way in which works of science fiction may have influenced religions or may constitute tools which offer food for thought for theology. taken here in the general sense of a rational discourse on the divine.

Among the possible subjects, without this list being exhaustive:

  • Science fiction and the question of God
  • Science-fiction et new age
  • Science fiction and secular religions
  • Science fiction and new religions
  • Science fiction and revelation
  • Science fiction and theology
  • The sacred in science fiction

Call for papers:

This study day is designed as a workshop preparatory to a more complete conference. The interventions will be the subject of a 20-minute presentation and will serve as a support for a discussion. They will give rise to the submission of a more complete essay subsequently, to the publication of the text in a special issue of a referenced journal, and to its presentation within the framework of a future conference (2022). The proposals will consist of a abstract maximum 500 words, a brief bibliography and a biographical presentation.

Date of submissionabstract : 1is mars 2021.

Response from the scientific committee: March 5, 2021

Contact : Franck Damour – franck.damour@univ-catholille.fr

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