The Humanities in Deep Time

pocket watch buried in sand, dark blue triangle in bottom left

To view the recordings for this event, click here.

'If you would like to read more about the conference, articles from the conference are included in a special issue of the journal Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology.'


In Norway, a forest has been planted which will supply paper for an anthology of books that will be published in 100 years’ time. In Texas, engineers are attempting to build a clock that will keep time for the next 10 millennia. In Svalbard, biologists are storing seeds for a future where many plant species are extinct. And in Finland, a new disposal site aims to shield all-comers from radioactive waste for as long as it takes to cool. Humans, it seems, are beginning to consider their existence and their activities from a deep time perspective. For many in the environmental movement, such thinking is urgently needed if we are to comprehend the scale of the planetary damage that we are currently causing.

But what does such long-term thinking mean for the humanities? Given that human life seems to fade into relative insignificance when considered on geological timescales, how are disciplines that focus on the time-bound arts, histories, cultures, and religions of humanity to respond? On the flip side, given the immense ecological devastation that humanity is currently causing, what role can the humanities play in encouraging a more humble, deep time perspective?

This conference explores the impact of deep time thinking in the environmental humanities by bringing together leading scholars, thinkers, and visionaries, and asking how the recent interest in deep time has been received in various disciplines. What role can literature play in grappling with such extended temporalities? How have historians and anthropologists coped with the need to mesh their timescales with those of the geologists? What place do religions have in shaping our understandings of both time and eternity? And how might we envisage the task of ethics from the perspective of deep time?



During each one-hour session two invited speakers will give short (15 minute) presentations on how they understand the place of their own discipline within deep time thinking. They will then be invited into dialogue with each other, before opening out into general Q&A with all conference participants.

9.30-10.30 am – History and Anthropology in Deep Time
Amanda Power (History, Oxford) and
Richard Irvine (Anthropology, St. Andrews)
10.45-11.45 am – Theologies and Religions in Deep Time I
Angelika Malinar (Hinduism and Indian Philosophy, Zurich) and
James Miller (Humanities and Daoist Studies, Duke Kunshan)
12.00-1.00 pm – Philosophy and Ethics in Deep Time
Michelle Bastian (Philosophy and Environmental Humanities, Edinburgh) and
Robin Attfield (Environmental Ethics, Cardiff)
Lunch: 1.00-2.00 pm – Optional Networking (feel free to bring your lunch)
2.00-2.15 pm – Presentation of Poetry Competition
Judge: Jade Cuttle (Eco-poet and Arts Commissioning Editor at the Times)
2.15-3.15 pm – Deep Time Literature
Kate Rigby (Literature and Environmental Humanities, Bath Spa) and
David Farrier (Literature and Environmental Humanities, Edinburgh)
3.30-4.30 pm – Theologies and Religions in Deep Time II
Simone Kotva (Religion and Philosophy, Oslo) and
Jeremy Kidwell (Christian Theology and Ethics, Birmingham)

Poetry Competition

Alongside the conference we will also be holding a ‘deep time’ poetry competition. The two winning poets will be invited to read their poem at the conference and will each receive a one-hundred-pound book token as a prize. All entries will be considered for publication in the Michaelmas 2021 edition of the Oxford University Poetry Society journal, Ash.  The competition will be judged by Jade Cuttle, Eco-poet and Arts Commissioning Editor at the Times. 

To enter the competition, please email your poem to: The deadline for submissions is Friday 18th June.

To view the recordings for this event, click here.

Environmental HumanitiesTORCH Programmes