Image is pleased to present our inaugural L’Engle Seminar
Poetry, Science, and the Imagination
a five-part seminar with Brian Volck and special guests
Wednesdays in March at 1pm ET
Poetry and the sciences are connected in deep and surprising ways. Both the poet and the scientist engage reality through the imagination. And in this five-part online seminar, you are invited to explore imagination as a way of knowing within the two disciplines. Each hour-long session will have a distinct focus and feature the insight of a wide array of poets, scientists, philosophers, and theologians.
The series is open to everyone who reads poetry, took a science class in school, or has an imagination!
Registration for the seminar is $49 per household and includes all five events in the series, access to recordings for a month after its conclusion, plus a rich trove of recommended resources—videos, readings, and books—for those who want to dig deeper into these topics. Scroll down to the FAQs for information about scholarships and group discounts.
This five-part seminar will be held via Zoom at 1pm ET each Wednesday in March.
Brian Volck, MD, MFA, is a pediatrician, poet, and Benedictine oblate. He is the author of a poetry collection, Flesh Becomes Word, and a memoir, Attending Others, and co-author of Reclaiming the Body. His writing has appeared in The Journal of Moral Theology, Christian Century, DoubleTake, Health Affairs, and Image. He does his clinical work in Maryland and on the Navajo Nation, and also teaches theology and medicine at St. Mary’s Seminary and University of Baltimore. He is a Benedictine oblate at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert near Abiquiu, New Mexico.
+ An excerpt of Attending Others in Image
+ A conversation with Brian Volck in Midwestern Gothic
March 3: Only Connect!
Poetry and the sciences struggle to find language for the unknown, imagining reality in new ways. Both employ precise language, using narrative and metaphor to make unexpected connections. Both disciplines arise from the human desire for beauty, knowledge, and wisdom. How do scientists, poets, and interested observers envision these connections?
Special guest: Tom McLeish, physicist and author of The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art, talking about creativity
March 10: The Same Necessity
Humans are pattern-seeking creatures. Poetry and the sciences begin in observation followed by imaginative reflection, each discipline attempting to induce an inherent or imposed order in a chaotic universe. How much can we confidently know about the observed world? Does either discipline reliably grant access to reality?
Special guest: Mary Peelen, poet and mathematician, talking about order and pattern
March 17: The One Life Within Us
Imagination is key to scientific and poetic discovery. Contemporary neuroscience is now discovering what Coleridge intuited in 1817: that imagination is an indispensable component of all perception. How does imagination function in both disciplines? What do these commonalities mean for our creative and spiritual lives?
Special guest: Malcolm Guite, poet, priest, and Coleridge scholar, talking about Coleridge’s theory of the primary and secondary imagination
March 24: Humbled by Ignorance
Poetry and the sciences are not identical. They use language and imagination differently and to different ends. Why, for example is ambiguity in words a good thing in poetry but not in (most) science? What happens when poets and scientists make unfounded claims about what we know? Both disciplines can teach us to ask better questions as we ponder the precious little we actually know. How does the imagination help us live ethically in a world of limits, unknowns, and diversity?
Special guest: Marilyn Nelson, poet and YA author, talking about science, poetry, what we know, and what we don’t.
March 31: Finding Again the World
Poetry and the sciences must tell us something about the world if they are to have any relevance to our creative, moral, and spiritual lives. How might the sciences, poetry, and the life of faith talk to one another? How do we use the imagination responsibly?
Special guest: Robert Cording, poet and educator, talking about words and the world they reveal
About the L’Engle Seminars
Hosted by Image, the L’Engle Seminars is a series of events that brings together artists and scientists to explore how their work is in conversation with each other and theology. These seminars are inspired by three characteristics of her life and work: attention to the generative interplay between faith, art, and science; recognition that all art is incarnational and that science enlarges our understanding of creation; and generous engagement with diverse faith traditions, including diverse Christian communities.
Originally planned to launch in Madeleine’s beloved New York City in 2020 and then travel across North America in the following years, The L’Engle Seminars will now kickoff online in March 2021 with a five-part event accessible to people around the world that’s only possible due to this digital pivot. It’s a silver lining in the midst of a global pandemic that we think Madeleine would appreciate. We anticipate hosting L’Engle Seminars in person in the near future, as conditions allow.
Sign up to receive updates about future L’Engle Seminars as they are announced.
About Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) was a prolific writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that reflect her energetic engagement with both Christianity and science. She won numerous literary prizes in her lifetime and her many bestselling books, including the classic Wrinkle in Time, continue to find new readers. The diversity of her reading public and breadth of her influence can be seen in the fact her papers are housed at both Wheaton College and Smith College. Learn more about her life and legacy here.
Madeleine L’Engle on art, science, and faith:
The discoveries made since the heart of the atom was opened have changed our view of the universe and of Creation. . . . The universe is far greater and grander and less predictable than anyone realized, and one reaction to this is to turn our back on the glory and settle for a small, tribal god who forbids questions of any kind. Another reaction is to feel so small and valueless in comparison to the enormity of the universe that it becomes impossible to believe in a God who can be bothered with us tiny, finite creatures. . . .Or we can rejoice in a God who is beyond our comprehension but who comprehends us and cares about us.
—The Rock that is Higher
But everything we are learning about the nature of Being is making it apparent that “us” versus “them” is a violation of Creation. Tribalism must be transformed into community. We are learning from astrophysics and particle physics and cellular biology that all of Creation exists only in interdependence and unity.
—A Stone for a Pillow
Science, literature, art, theology: it is all the same ridiculous, glorious, mysterious language.
—A Circle of Quiet
Many thousands of those suns must have planets, and it’s surely arrogant of us to think of our earth as being the only planet in creation with life on it.
—Dragons in the Waters
If I affirm that the universe was created by a power of love, and that all creation is good, I am not proclaiming safety. Safety was never part of the promise. Creativity, yes; safety, no.
— And It Was Good
Creative scientists and saints expect revelation and do not fear it. Neither do children. But as we grow up and we are hurt, we learn not to trust, and that lack of trust is a wound as grievous as whatever caused it.
—Walking on Water
A story where myth, fantasy, fairy tale, or science fiction explore and ask questions moves beyond fragmatic dailiness to wonder. Rather than taking the child away from the real world, such stories are preparation for living in the real world with courage and expectancy. A child who has been denied imaginative literature is likely to have far more difficulty in understanding cellular biology or postNewtonian physics than the child whose imagination has already been stretched by reading fantasy and science fiction.
—Walking on Water
The Word is not a pet. The Word is the wildness behind creation, the terror of a black hole, the atomic violence of burning hydrogen within a sun.
—And It Was Good