The Theory and Practice of Cosmic Ascent

The Theory and Practice of Cosmic Ascent: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches
Trinity College Dublin
Date, TBA

Conference Sponsors: Department of Classics, Trinity College Dublin, and the Trinity Plato Centre

Conference Organisers: Professor John Dillon (Emeritus Professor of Greek and Director Emeritus of the Trinity Plato Centre) and Dr Nicholas Banner (IRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Classics and Trinity Plato Centre)

One of the most striking tropes in the history of western thought is the account of cosmic ascent; we find narratives of humans ascending to the stars and beyond in a vast array of sources from among the earliest written accounts in western One of the most striking tropes in the history of western thought is the account of cosmic ascent; we find narratives of humans ascending to the stars and beyond in a vast array of sources from among the earliest written accounts in western literature, through antiquity, and up to (at least) the High Middle Ages. From the Hellenistic period onward, Mediterranean religions and philosophies (understood broadly) looked increasingly to a model of human ascent as a primary locus for spiritual achievement; however, the ways in which such ascent was conceptualised vary enormously from tradition to tradition (we might compare e.g. Jewish apocalyptic texts with the ascent-accounts of Platonist philosophers, or Hermetic with Sethian ascent-accounts), and even from thinker to thinker (we might contrast e.g. Plutarch with Plotinus or St Paul with Clement of Alexandria).

The vast range of genres invoking cosmic ascent – including revealed scriptures, magical texts, scientific philosophic theory, religious devotional literature, and more – invites explanation. These ascent-accounts are often set in parallel with ascent-practices and ascent-experiences which are very difficult to interpret and model, adding further complexity to the enquiry. This conference will feature papers by a range of specialists across fields ranging from the history of religions, classics, and the history of philosophy to cognitive science of religions and neuroscience.

Originally scheduled for June 2020, the conference has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please watch the Trinity Plato Centre website for the announcement of the rescheduled date, which we will set as soon as a reasonable amount of certainty prevails as to travel-restrictions and similar issues affecting delegates.