Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Literature and Art as Encounter: The Intrinsic Religious Dimension of the Humanities

Thomas Kelly.

It is not that in the arts or humanities nothing is verifiable or falsifiable, but “there can be no verifiable or falsifiable deductions entailing predictable consequences in the very concrete sense in which a scientific theory carries predictive force.” Aesthetic and, one could argue by extension religious experiences, are not irrational, but they are irreducible to another use and set of criteria for reason or pragmatic rationalization. As the humanities continue to adopt the methodologies of the “applied” sciences in a striving for greater academic respectability, the ability to interpret by participation has sufficiently decreased. This, ultimately, results in the diminishment of the humanities in favour of learning paradigms that are unsuitable for full knowledge of literature and art.

“Theoretical” approaches to the humanities and arts have actually created distance between a subject and these works in the form of intermediaries - i.e., those who interpret, codify, organize and identify the “meaning” of various works. Others, in turn interpret, codify, organize and identify these intermediaries and ‘interpretive’ literature grows exponentially. Because participating in a work is not quantifiable (it fails to satisfy the demands of ‘theory’), the ‘encounter-approach’ long dominant in the humanities has largely given way to secondary literature on primary texts. According to George Steiner, works in the arts and humanities are not fully appropriated by just being seen, read or heard about - they must be lived in a real encounter or experience, i.e., an experience that is a ‘real presence.’


Thomas Kelly  (United States)
Assistant Professor, Director, M.A. in Ministry
Theology Department
Creighton University

Thomas Kelly, Ph.D. teaches at Creighton University as an assistant professor of theology and Director of the M.A. in Ministry. Dr. Kelly is published nationally and internationally on hermeneutics and language in theology. His first book, Theology at the Void: The Retrieval of Experience was published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2002..

  • Language
  • Experience
  • Theory
  • Religion
  • Encounter
  • Method
  • Hermeneutics

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)