Call for Papers: Sublime Cognition: Science Fiction and Metaphysics

Conference: 15th September 2018 at Birkbeck School of Arts

Deadline for Abstracts: 1st May 2018

Many SF critics have understood science fiction to be specifically guided by a rational empiricist epistemology, and have thus disregarded the important presence of magical, religious, spiritual and metaphysical phenomena in science fiction. Deploying the broad catch-all of ‘metaphysics’, this conference will explore SF’s lost history of engagement with the mythical and mystical. Central areas of focus will include an assessment of what role (if any) metaphysical phenomena have played in science fiction, and to what degree SF can be distanced from the spiritual, supernatural and numinous concerns of other literatures of the fantastic. Assessing SF’s complex relationship with the metaphysical opens into many other productive areas of inquiry as well: How can science fictional texts help us understand broader cultural processes of knowledge formation and paradigm shift? To what degree does SF act as a protected space for ideas that have been proposed within empiricist frameworks, but disproved and/or rejected by established scientific networks? In what way have references to religious cultures and institutions been used to reinforce or undermine normative gender roles in SF texts? How do treatments of metaphysical phenomena in Western SF differ from those which originate in other areas of the globe? How important are the symbols, tropes and imagery of an array of global religious traditions to the quality of enchantment that is as vital to SF as any other fantastic genre?

Other possible areas of research/interpretation include:

  • Philosophical explorations of metaphysics in SF
  • Intersections, tensions and harmonies between SF and mythical, magical or mystical traditions
  • The science fictional sublime (e.g. cosmic or divine horror, weird ontologies, Big Dumb Objects)
  • SF and the supernatural
  • Intersections between theoretical science and metaphysics in speculative fiction
  • The use of metaphysical phenomena to challenge or uphold dominant secularist or materialist discourses in SF
  • SF and ‘pseudoscience’
  • SF adaptations of images, concepts and practices from religious movements large (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) and small (e.g. Raëlism, Discordianism, etc.)
  • Religious texts that reflect a science fictional narrative mode (e.g. in Theosophy and Scientology)
  • New Religious Movements founded on science fiction texts (e.g. Jedism from Star Wars; The Church of All Worlds from Stranger in a Strange Land)
  • SF as a forum for the exploration of religious experience
  • Technological simulation/production of alternative realities in SF (e.g. VR/AR, cybergods, hallucinogenic visions)
  • The liminal possibilities of the mind in science fiction—telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinetics, etc. Conversely, investigations of the Cartesian divide
  • Cognitive narratology
  • The boundaries of genre—metaphysical phenomena and definitional processes in science fiction scholarship
  • Metaphysical phenomena and the production of utopian/dystopian modes in SF

The conference will feature keynote addresses by Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck) and Helen de Cruz (Oxford Brookes), as well as a roundtable with authors Justina Robson, Jeff Noon and Fiona Moore (Royal Holloway), moderated by Jim Clarke (Coventry)

Conference organizers: Rhodri Davies (PhD, Birkbeck), Aren Roukema (PhD, Birkbeck), Francis Gene-Rowe (PhD, Royal Holloway)

Submit abstracts of up to 300 words for 20 minute papers by 1 May 2018 to Two- to three-speaker panel proposals are also welcome. Please include a brief bio (c. 50 words). If accepted, abstracts and bios will be published in conference materials. Applicants will receive a response by 1 June.



Image: Adam LeeStrange Fire (2011-12)


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