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Alison Milbank on "Imaginative Apologetics beyond C. S. Lewis"

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The Haven at First and Market

112 West Market Street

Charlottesville, VA 22902

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“They taught me longing - Sehnsucht; made me for good or ill, and before I was six years old, a votary of the Blue Flower.”

— C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Christian apologetics is often understood as a rational defense of belief presented to unbelievers on grounds other than faith. As John Milbank has put it in his forward to Imaginative Apologetics, these grounds reside “on one’s opponent’s territory, where one risks remaining in a weak or even a false position.” In other words, reasons and rationality are understood in terms already inclined to make belief in transcendence less plausible. What if, however, the “apology” offered remained intact and faithful to its original setting? What if the defense of truth relied on the conditions of goodness and beauty?

The famous apologist and fantasy writer, C. S. Lewis wrote that “reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” In other statements and in his poem “Reason,” Lewis suggests that not only are reason and imagination distinct from each other, but that they are opposed and that we experience this opposition internally as in irreconcilable tension. How is it that such a superb writer of imaginative fiction seems to maintain a contradictory view of imagination in his non-fiction? Are we to take Lewis’s more direct statements about the imagination literally? Or can the imagination — and Lewis’s admitted love for beauty and longing — be incorporated into our understanding of reason and rationality?

In her talk, Alison Milbank will investigate these questions in light of the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty. With the help of some other thoughtful observers on the role of the imagination, Milbank will examine whether the Church can adopt an imaginative apologetic that does not deny the claims of reason.

In contrast to previous lectures, this spring’s lecture will take place in conjunction with a day conference on the Church and the academy hosted by the Methexis Institute.

More on Alison Milbank

Alison Milbank is associate professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Nottingham. Milbank studied Theology and English Literature at Cambridge, and then took her doctorate at Lancaster. She was a John Rylands Research Institute Fellow at the University of Manchester, where she had access to its extensive Dante archives. After a temporary lectureship and extensive college teaching at Cambridge, Milbank taught in the English Department at the University of Virginia for five years, making full use of the Sadleir-Black Gothic collection in the UVA library.

Dr. Milbank’s research interests focus on the relation of religion to culture in the post-Enlightenment period, with particular interest in non-realist literary and artistic expression, such as the Gothic, the fantastic, horror and fantasy. Her books include Dante and the Victorians (2009), Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (2007), and God and the Gothic: Religion, Romance, and Reality in the English Literary Tradition (2018).


Please refer to our webpages marshillaudio.org/areopagus for more information about the Areopagus Lectures and to listen to audio from previous lectures.

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The Haven at First and Market

112 West Market Street

Charlottesville, VA 22902

View Map

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