The Prophetic Word


Image: Michelangelo, The Libyan Sibyl (Sistine Chapel)

The Fifth Power of the Word International Conference will be on The Prophetic Word: Poetry, Philosophy and Theology in Conversation.

Organized by the Heythrop Institute for Religion and Society (Heythrop College, University of London) and the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture (Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford).

The Fifth Power of the Word International Conference, to be held at Oxford in September 2017, focuses on the prophetic genius of literature, particularly of poetry. ‘Prophetic genius’ is understood here to be that relentless impulse of literature to challenge the world from which it has arisen and, looking beyond, to propose alternative visions, practicable or utopian, of individual and collective fulfilment. In some authors – Dante, Milton and Blake are three obvious examples – the prophetic word is overtly religious, in others – Virgil, Shelley and Yeats, say – it is not. Often the distinction becomes blurred, as in the poems of H.D., Denise Levertov and Allen Ginsberg. The conference will explore this theme in conversation with theology, philosophy, the three main Abrahamic religions and Greek and Latin literature and learning, and address some universal questions. For example, what do these various traditions and their understanding of the prophetic have in common? Are they mostly different or even in conflict? How do their audiences discern true from false prophets? How do they know when ‘good spirits not evil ones choose poets for their instruments’ (Czesław Miłosz)? Can poets really claim to have a prophetic authority comparable to that attributed in Scripture to the prophets? How persuasive is Seamus Heaney’s sense of the ‘redress of poetry’, of its power to stimulate alternative ways of being in the world?

See below for a link to the programme, which includes contributions by literary scholars, creative writers, theologians and philosophers, all working on texts and authors from different backgrounds and traditions. Confirmed keynote speakers:

John Barton (University of Oxford) “The Hebrew Prophets: Seers or Poets?”

Tina Beattie (University of Roehampton) “Hope as Prophecy: Interpreting the Silence of Holy Saturday”

William Franke (Vanderbilt University) “Poetry as Prophecy: From Anthropological Origins to Postmodern Apocalypses”

Małgorzata Grzegorzewska (University of Warsaw)

Michèle Le Dœuff (ENS Paris) “Equality and Prophecy”

Christopher Rowland (University of Oxford) ‘Diversely and in many ways God spoke by the Prophets’: the perspectives of the New Testament and the texts and images of William Blake on ‘the Prophetic Word’

Alessandro Schiesaro (University of Manchester) “Empedocles and the Prophetic Word”

Mona Siddiqui (University of Edinburgh) “The Poetry of Piety: Between Divine Word and Prophetic Word”

The Conference will host a public poetry-reading event with Jay Parini and Mark Burrows and a public lecture in relation to the topic of the conference.  Artist and scholar Clark Lunberry will also be creating a site-specific ‘writing on water’ poetry installation on the pond adjacent to the Lazenbee’s Ground Walk in the Oxford University Park. This installation, in place for the duration of the conference, will be linked to the conference theme of the ‘Prophetic Word,’ as well as Lunberry’s own presentation on the poet Stéphane Mallarmé and his ‘aquatic reveries.’ Information about Lunberry’s past installations at sites around the world can be seen here


Click here to download the programme and abstracts for the papers.


The fee for the conference will be £95.  To book, click here.

The fee includes a conference dinner on Wednesday evening (13 September), lunch on Thursday (14 September) and Friday (15 September) and all refreshment breaks. The conference fee does NOT include accommodation. Please see below for accommodation options.


Regent’s Park College: £67.50 (plus booking fee) per night for room and cooked breakfast (no en suite available). Book these rooms here.

Accommodation is available at Regent’s for the duration of the conference (3 nights: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). A limited number of rooms are available for delegates who wish to arrive before the conference or to stay on afterwards. To discuss these options, please send your desired dates through to Dr Jamie Callison:

Lady Margaret Hall: £76.50 per night for en suite room and breakfast. Conference rates available upon entering the following code at checkout: POTW2017.

The Cherwell Centre: £40 per night for en suite single room and £30 for en suite twin room for room and basic breakfast. A £20 deposit is required on booking. To book please contact Sr Angela O’Connor ( and mention the conference in the email.

Please note en suite accommodation is limited so please book early to ensure availability.

Also see and enter relevant dates.

Hotels close to Regent’s are as follows:

Cotswold Lodge

Old Parsonage Hotel

Royal Oxford Hotel

Vanbrugh House Hotel

Mercure Oxford Eastgate Hotel

Macdonald Randolph Hotel

The Richmond Hotel


For academic enquiries or queries relating to accommodation at Regent’s Park College please contact: Dr Jamie Callison (

Further other issues please contact: Pippa Springett at

The Power of the Word international conferences aim to initiate, foster and support conversations between creative writers, literary scholars, philosophers, theologians, biblical scholars and students of religions on topics of common interest and concern. From their beginning in 2011 their deliberately interdisciplinary character has been a strong feature with an appeal to a wide range of scholars and students. Initiated by Heythrop College, University of London, in 2011, the conferences have been held in London (2011 and 2012), Gdańsk (2013) and Rome (2015).

Advisory Board (Conference V)

Professor Piero Boitani (Sapienza University of Rome)

Dr Francesca Bugliani Knox (Research Associate, Heythrop College, University of London)

Professor Mark Burrows (University of Applied Sciences, Bochum)

Professor Paul Fiddes (Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford)

Dr Michael Kirwan (Director, the Heythrop Institute for Religion and Society)

David Lonsdale (Heythrop College, University of London)

Professor Jay Parini (Middlebury College, Vermont)

Dr Antonio Spadaro SJ (Director, Civiltà Cattolica, Rome)

Professor John Took (University College London)

Professor Jean Ward (University of Gdańsk)

Academic Planning Group

Dr Francesca Bugliani Knox, Dr Jamie Callison, Professor Paul Fiddes, Dr Michael Kirwan, David Lonsdale and Professor John Took

Executive Team

Dr Jamie Callison and David Lonsdale

* Michèle Le Dœuff (ENS Paris)
French philosopher and playwright who teaches at the Ècole Normale Superieure in Paris. Her works, including The Philosophical Imaginary and The Sex of Knowing, challenge a philosophical tradition that privileges male rationality.

Image: Michelangelo, The Libyan Sibyl (Sistine Chapel)


The Oxford Psalms Network

Contact name: Pippa Springett

Contact email:

Audience: Open to all