CFP – Ghosts and the Undead

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Thursday to Saturday, 22-24 April 2021

Lectures, Papers and Workshops hosted by the Chaplaincy and a Concert in Bishop Grosseteste University Chapel, Lincoln.

Closing date for submission of abstracts: 30 September 2020.

Keynote: TBC

Death and Dying, once deemed to have almost disappeared from everyday life (Ariès 1974), have now become an almost fashionable taboo. True, the dying are hidden away in hospitals or hospices, but talking about ‘it’ has become a matter of public discussion through the Death Café movement, organisations such as Dying Matters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Death and dying has become a global and is visible as well as well-documented phenomenon on account of the various statistics and graphs. Whilst conversations about death and dying are important, because they help us to prepare and live with loss, this conference attempts to reunite ‘the dead’ with ‘the living’ in an attempt to reintroduce privacy. This event, open to all irrespective of religious affiliation and to those who have none, will bring together members of the public, practitioners, creative artists and scholars working across the arts, humanities, sciences and theology, whose work, research and working/creative practices relate to death and dying.

Our intention is to explore how approaches to mortality and the afterlife have changed since the early modern period – as reflected in the literature, art, history and sciences, as well as in funeral and mourning practices and rituals. This year (the project academic and creative responses to death and dying at BGU is in its fifth year) the conference is hosted by BGU Chaplaincy. Our focus is on ghosts and the undead and we would like to approach these phenomena through the lens of Hope and in all its different incarnations.

The dead have an absent presence. When William Blake was in his deathbed in 1827, he told his wife Catherine that “‘they would not be parted; he would always be about her to take care of her.’” (Gilchrist ([1907] 1998, 381). William Blake was deeply interested in the relationship between life and death. For him, they weren’t opposites; they were connected as two states of being. Blake is known to have talked to his ‘dead’, younger brother Robert all his life. He never forgot the dead. In Psychotherapy as well as Literature ghosts literalize the return of the repressed (Freud) and the Undead haunt the living through the experience of grief and loss. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, King Hamlet cannot rest because he needs to be revenged. Young Hamlet struggles because he is uncertain about what to do, and it all ends very badly due to his continual indecision. Like ghosts, secrets about the death lord the power of how the living honour their dead by trying to preserve their reputations as well as legacies. Symptomatic of transgenerational trauma is not so much repetition as a sign of uncertainty, but repetition on account of a broken narrative. Suicide or sudden deaths, of course, are the hardest interruptions to accept. Silence fills the space a story should fill. Death and dying are normally tethered to feelings of relief, ending, conclusion as well as the hope and expectation of life after death, not so much in terms of a deferred future but rather conceived as immortality – continuation or even a transposition to the state of transhumanism. How can we still feel safe?

Our aim is to engage with a difficult topic academically as well as creatively and through conversation. We do not offer any solutions or remedies.

Our intention is to explore how experiences of death and dying have changed since the early modern period – as reflected in the literature, art, history and sciences, as well as in funeral and mourning practices and rituals.

There will be a registration fee (£25) for participants but all students will attend for free. We can help with finding accommodation and will provide basic catering (tea and coffee during the breaks). For all enquiries and registration, please email chaplaincy@bishopg.ac.uk.

Proposals for 20-minute talks and workshops (up to 3 hours) are invited from participants working in any discipline, and at all career stages or professions. All sessions are intended as starting points for interdisciplinary exchange and discussion, which is why the academic components need to be short and informal. Our audience is fellow academics, practitioners, and artists as well as students and the general public.

Potential topics should include but are not limited to the following:

  • Theological Reflections on Death, Dying and Funeral Practices
  • Literature written for Children and Young Adults
  • Creative Writing
  • Death, Art and the Gothic
  • Death and Spirituality
  • Therapeutic and religious approaches to working with Children and Young Adults
  • Neuro-Diversity / Disability Studies and Grief
  • Wellbeing and Grief
  • Grief in School or University Education
  • Representations of death and dying in the Media and Popular Culture

The event will include a Concert (tbc), a visit to the Cathedral (display in Wren Library and medieval tombs floor tour) BGU Library (displays of Books) as well as Conversation and Death and a Quiet Room for reflection.

If you would like to participate, please submit a short bio (50 words) and a brief (max. 200 word) abstract by 30 September 20209 to sibylle.erle@bishopg.ac.uk and peter.green@bishopg.ac.uk, indicating what your academic or creative approach to death, dying, loss and grief.  

The question of what is appropriate to tell children can be part of the approach or be discussed afterwards. All proposals will be anonymously peer-reviewed.