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Stranger Things: The Weird, the Paranormal, and the Problem of Belief

British Modernities Group, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

20–21 April 2018, Urbana, IL

Keynote Presentation: “Listening to the Dead: W. B. Yeats’s Communication with Spirits”

By Dr. Catherine E. Paul, Professor Emerita, Clemson University

Additional speakers TBA

The British Modernities Group (BMG) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign invites graduate students from all disciplines to present papers at its thirteenth annual interdisciplinary conference: “Stranger Things: The Weird, the Paranormal, and the Problem of Belief.”

Ghosts, spirits, and supernatural beings occupy much of our contemporary cultural imagination, as shown by the runaway successes of David Lynch’s revamped Twin Peaks and the Netflix original series Stranger Things. At the same time, the humanist modes of thinking that Western philosophy has relied on to make sense of the world have proven insufficient. What we have assumed to be inanimate, insentient, nonexistent, or even dead has come to haunt our previous theories and has helped to spur developments in critical thought that include object-oriented ontology, thing theory, and critical animal and/or plant studies. All these developments have troubled humanity’s relationship with the world in ways that may be termed “weird.” Indeed, these new approaches assure us, to borrow from Hamlet, that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

Our conference brings together innovative work in literature, film, philosophy, religious studies, history, psychology, and related fields to consider the significance of the weird and paranormal in art, culture, and critical theory. Some questions we hope to reflect on include: How do encounters with the weird and/or paranormal manage to inspire both horror and pleasure? How should we as readers account for the beliefs of an author, or the beliefs we ourselves bring to a work of art? Following Marx and Derrida, what sort of spectres haunt contemporary society? How might attending to stranger things help us imagine, and possibly create, alternate futures? What do we do with the weird—and what does the weird do to us?

The British Modernities Group invites novel paper proposals from any discipline and theoretical background. Past presenters have included Americanists, Classicists, Medievalists, and scholars from fields outside of literary studies. We would love to hear from a wide range of specialties! Possible paper topics, methodologies, and fields of inquiry include, but are not limited to, the following:

Belief, Unbelief, and Heresy
Fairy Tales and Myth
Faith and Skepticism
Ghosts, Hauntings, and Spirits
The Gothic
Hauntology and the Spectral Turn
Memory Studies
Mysticism and Spirituality
Object-Oriented Ontology
The Occult
The Paranormal
The Postsecular Turn
Psychology, Parapsychology, and Madness
Religion in Art and Culture
Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction
The Trace
The Uncanny
The Weird

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words for individual papers (or 350 words for panels) to Patrick Kimutis and Sabrina Lee at by 14 February 2018. Please include your name, along with your departmental and institutional affiliations, in your email. Conference papers must not exceed 20 minutes.

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