2023 Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature

Baylor University, Waco TX

September 21-23, 2023

To speak of our historical moment as one of great cultural upheaval is trite understatement, to be sure. Ours, however, is not merely an age of change; it is a period of ongoing change.  The “unprecedented” has been normalized.  Crisis and scandal and outrage all have become de rigueur, the “new normal,” of our disorienting change. In the midst of this tumult and change, human relationships have been transformed.  The Conference on Christianity and Literature exists, in part, to explore “the relationships between Christianity and literature” in hopes of discovering how one might, as the psalmist wrote, “sing the songs of the Lord/while in a foreign land.” Or, to borrow from Robert Frost, perhaps literature in a fallen world (would it exist in any other kind of world?) is one of humanity’s efforts to address the question of “what to make of a diminished thing.” The psalmist who longs for a particular homeland, the poet who abides in exile—these paradigmatic voices echo and resound in our age.  In light of this reality, the 2023 SWCCL conference theme is Aliens and Allies

Keynote speakers

Dr Lori Branch (University of Iowa)

Dr Branch is the author of Rituals of Spontaneity: Sentiment and Secularism from Free Prayer to Wordsworth (Baylor University Press, 2007), winner of the Christianity and Literature Book of the Year Award 2007, and of the forthcoming books Postsecular Reason: A Manifesto, and The Violation of God: Masculinity and Secularism in the Enlightenment. She is editor of the monograph series Literature, Religion, and Postsecular Studies for Ohio State University Press. Her keynote address will be entitled, “Religion and Secularism: Postsecular Allies?”

Dr Natalie Carnes (Baylor University)

Dr Carnes is the author of Motherhood: A Confession (Stanford University Press, 2020); Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia (Stanford University Press, 2017); and Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa (Cascade Books, 2014). Currently, she is working on a project that explores intersections of poverty, aesthetics, luxury, and art, pursuing the question: What is the place of art in a world of poverty and suffering? Her keynote address will be entitled, “The Artist as Ascetic: How the Denials and Excesses of Art Witness to Christian Hope”. 

Christian Community
Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature regional meeting
October 15-16, 2021
Northeastern State University
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

The keynote speaker for the conference will be Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown, associate professor of History at the University of Chicago and author of Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Life and Thought (2018), who will be discussing Christian poetry and its role in community and culture.

In light of the disruptions in our world created by COVID-19, the working theme for this year’s conference will be “Christian Community” as we begin to rebuild and reestablish communal bonds and seek to understand how our sense of community and the communal have changed in response to the world around us.

Possible paper topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The construction of Christian community and fellowship in or through literature

  • Recovering a sense of the communal through literature

  • The impact of the world on both faith and literary interpretation

  • Constructions of communal worldviews through shared experience

  • Faith as a tool for rebuilding after disaster

  • Ways of engaging with community through narrative

  • Community and the construction of the text

  • Narrative community as model

  • Liturgy and the lived community

  • Community and spirituality in popular media


The Art of Spiritual Friendship

Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature
October 16-17, 2020
ONLINE, hosted by Dallas Baptist University


Dr. Paul Wadell, Keynote Speaker

Dr. Wadell currently teaches philosophy, Christian ethics, and theology at St. Norbert College. He is the author of The Christian Moral Life—Faithful Discipleship for a Global Society, co-authored with Patricia Lamoureux (2010); The Moral of the Story: Learning from Literature about Human and Divine Love (2003); and Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship (2002), as well as other books.

As Parker Palmer has observed, “The highest form of love is the love that allows for intimacy without the annihilation of difference.” For many, the experience of friendship offers a window into such a love, for though it may occur among lovers and family, as often it is found among those connected by only a shared passion or concern. Friendship, then, is not just a common regard and affection for others, but also a common task and joy. The literature of Christianity offers a rich tradition of reflection upon the many facets of friendship—with God, with our fellow humans, and with the natural world, and the “art of spiritual friendship” may be said to encompass not only the moral and intellectual skill of being friends, but also the cultural works that embody it in print, on stage, and in film.


"Solemn Geographies & Sacred Places: The Literature of Holy Location"

5-7 October 2017 

 Abilene Christianity University-Dallas Campus 

16633 Dallas Parkway, Addison, Texas 75001

Keynote Speaker: Wilfred M. McClay, “Gardeners and Pilgrims: The Dual Aspect of Place in the Christian Imagination”

Dr. McClay is the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty and Director of the Center for the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma. He is the award-winning author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America; and co-editor of Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Public Life in Modern America. For 11 years he served on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has been appointed to the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, which is planning events for the nation’s 250th anniversary. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education.

Gaston Bachelard in his classic The Poetics of Space remarked that “the space we love is unwilling to remain permanently enclosed.” Instead, beloved places and locations are “felicitous space’ and ‘eulogized space” because “all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of time.” This is especially true of sacred places: churches, chapels, abbeys, hermitages, martyrs’ graves, family altars, fountains, monuments, and natural locations. As Bachelard realized, poems, stories, and essays are some of the universal ways that we experience such places and give words to our faith, doubt, love, fear, and mystery. In particular, the literature of Christianity, both by its believers and its skeptics, offers a rich and multi-faceted response to how we participate in holy places and how they give themselves to us in turn. 


"Stewards of Culture: The Role of the Christian Writer in the 21st Century"

October 27-29, 2016

Oral Roberts University

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Keynote Speaker: Gregory Wolfe, Editor and founder of Image and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture at Seattle University

Since the publication of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture in 1951, Christians have been more conscious of how the church has, historically, related to its contemporary culture. Today, with many Christian communities dedicated to a “culture war,” and with orthodox Christianity becoming more obfuscated in entertainment and the arts, the Christian artist may feel an obligation to witness to his or her faith more directly than in earlier cultures. Can artists of faith serve the good of the work, or should they separate from their culture and use the work as a clear vehicle for faith? How can the good, the true, and the beautiful emerge out of a clear authentic Christian vision, one that is true to the artist’s creed and craft?


"Christ and Culture: The Interaction of Faith and Literature Through the Ages"

October 1-3, 2015

University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, TX

Keynote Speakers: Luke Ferreter (Baylor University) and David Lyle Jeffrey (Baylor University)

2015 is a significant year for literature and Christianity because it is the 100th anniversary of T. S. Eliot’s publication of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), as well as the 50th anniversary of Eliot’s death (1965). His two essays “The Idea of a Christian Society” and “Notes towards the Definition of Culture,” published together as the book Christianity and Culture, have proven significant contributions to today’s understanding of the Christian’s role in society. Eliot’s voice cannot be ignored in discussions of culture, the arts, and the Christian’s relationship to them, and during the 2015 Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature, we would seek to hear echoes of that voice in fresh and diverse ways.

The 2015 SWCCL has as its theme the exploration of those intersections of Christianity and Culture in a broad sense, with special attention given, of course, to the literary arts. This conference invites those who seek to explore the role that Christianity has played in shaping the arts of Western culture in particular. The issues associated with the faith’s influence on literature and, conversely, literature influence on the faith are as old as the founding of the Church; they have also been fraught with controversy and debate. (How should Christians read literature, secular or sacred? What impact should Christians see to have in the arts?)


"Has Literature Lost Its Faith?"

Nov. 14-16, 2014
John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR

Keynote Speaker: Randy Boyagoda, Ryerson University

In December 2012 Paul Elie wrote a New York Times article entitled, "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?" which sparked conversation among many literati, including Dana Gioia, Gregory Wolfe, and Randy Boyagoda, about the status of faith and literature. This conference aims to continue this discussion. Papers will be considered from a variety of disciplines and fields but should pursue questions regarding the intersection of faith and literature.