CFP: Theory and Practice of Cosmic Ascent

The Theory and Practice of Cosmic Ascent: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches

Trinity College, Dublin
19-20 June, 2020

Conference Sponsors: Trinity College Department of Classics, and The Centre for the Study of the Platonic Tradition, Trinity College, Dublin

Conference Organisers: Professor John Dillon (Emeritus, Trinity College, Dublin) and Nicholas Banner (Trinity College, Dublin) 

Date:  19-20 June, 2020
Submission Deadline:  13 March, 2020
Confirmation Date:  01 April, 2020

One of the most striking tropes in the history of western thought is the account of cosmic ascent; we find narratives of humans ascending to the stars and beyond in a vast array of sources from among the earliest written accounts of western literature, through antiquity, and up to (at least) the High Middle Ages. From the Hellenistic period onward, Mediterranean religions and philosophies (understood broadly) looked increasingly to a model of human ascent as a primary locus for spiritual achievement; however, the ways in which such ascent was conceptualized vary enormously from tradition to tradition (we might compare e.g. Jewish apocalyptic texts with the ascent-accounts of Platonist philosophers, or Hermetic with Sethian ascent-accounts), and even from thinker to thinker (we might contrast e.g. Plutarch with Plotinus or St Paul with Clement of Alexandria). 

The vast range of genres invoking cosmic ascent – including revealed scriptures, magical texts, scientific philosophic theory, religious devotional literature, and more – invites explanation. These ascent-accounts are often set in parallel with ascent-practices and ascent-experiences which are very difficult to interpret and model, adding further complexity to the enquiry.  

This conference will bring together specialists from a number of fields and methodological approaches with a view to expanding understanding of the significance of cosmic ascent-accounts. Papers are welcome from any methodological background, and neurological, cognitive, and other quantitative and qualitative scientific approaches are particularly welcome. The Mediterranean focus of the above description should by no means be taken to rule out any relevant geographical area; Manichæan or Islamicate texts from Central Asia, for example, are of obvious pertinence to the Mediterranean cosmic ascent topos. Themes for papers might include: 

  • Studies of ascent-accounts or the theory of cosmic ascent in a given writer, tradition, or cultural milieu, or comparative approaches to multiple such,
  • Cognitive or other approaches to the phenomenology of cosmic ascent as reported by ancient or later ascent-practitioners,
  • Cosmic ascent as a practice, whether considered phenomenologically, cognitively, as ritual, from a neuroscientific basis, or through other methodological frameworks,
  • Proposals for new typologies of cosmic ascent, or the refinement of existing ones.

The format of the conference will be one of traditional papers (30 minutes with ten to twenty minutes for discussion, depending on available time) interspersed with cross-disciplinary panel discussions and ample time and space for collegial interchange. It is especially hoped that disciplinary boundaries are crossed in this conference, so collaborative, cross-disciplinary papers are especially welcome.

Proposals of c. 200-300 words should be sent to Nicholas Banner (bannern@tcd.ie) not later that the submission deadline of 13 March, 2020. Successful applicants will be informed by the first of April. Applicants are welcome to propose panels or single papers.

The conference will be held in the Long Room Hub, Trinity College, Dublin. Limited funding for travel costs is available on the basis of need. Selected articles may be published as a special volume after a full double blind peer-review process.

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(Photo: "Handwritten" by A. Birkan, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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