Theologies of Reading

Alternate Wednesdays 17:00-19:00 during term-time

Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building


To read, and read at the same time one’s own reading, the notion of reading, the mechanical or quasi-mechanical necessity for that particular reading, at this moment, in this place, in this state. […]  To read, and doubt what you read, but in an abstract way, without reading the doubt.

—Simone Weil

What is it to read?  Why and how do we read?

Today, the assumption made by most is that reading is about ‘getting’ content. Reading has become so much the medium of consumption, that we are at risk of losing the ability to reflect on the action of reading itself. To do so is to assume that meaning or truth remains stable in a text, and may seem an encroachment on the freedom of the individual reader. Yet liberalism has its own encroachments, assuming not only the possibility but the desirability of disinterested reading.

This seminar series, held at CRASSH in 2017-18, sets out to interrogate the assumption that reading should or could be disinterested. Instead, it asks instead: in what ways does reading remain interested in questions of truth and meaning?

Historically, religious traditions have formulated some of the most detailed regimes of reading, resulting in practices such as Lectio Divina, Quranic recitation and Midrash. But literary-critical disciplines such as philology, prosody and deconstruction have also developed practices of reading which, though they may disavow ‘truth’, share common terms, methodologies and horizons of meaning with religious practices. All these practices, we propose, bear scrutiny as ‘theologies’ of reading. New practices continue to emerge. While some, following Michel Foucault and Peter Sloterdijk, insist on the therapeutic and ‘anthropotechnic’ uses of texts, the media suggests speed and velocity as a criterion of value. In the face of this multiplicity of programs, all vying for supremacy while disavowing the possibilities of a common practice it has never been more important to refrain from asking not only, ‘what do we read?’ but also: ‘how do we read?’

Each session introduces two speakers who will deliver brief presentations of a reading practice —historical or contemporary, sacred or secular—and then, together with the group, will discuss a pre-circulated text which resists or exemplifies the style under consideration.

Administrative assistance:



Dr Ruth Jackson  (Research Associate at CRASSH on the Bible and Antiquity in 19th Century Culture project.Discipline: Theology)
Dr Simone Kotva  (Junior Research Fellow, Emmanuel College and Faculty of Divinity. Discipline: Theology)
Dr Laura Kilbride  (Junior Research Fellow, Peterhouse and Faculty of English. Discipline: English)

Faculty Advisors

Professor Janet Soskice  (Professor of Philosophical Theology, Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge)
Dr Christopher Burlinson (CTO in English at Jesus College, Cambridge)
Professor Simon Goldhill (Director of CRASSH, Classics, Cambridge)

Programme 2017-18


Theologies of Reading
04 October 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Andrew Bowie (Royal Holloway, London), Alison Scott-Baumann (SOAS, London) - Theologies of Reading

Lectio Divina
18 October 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

David Foster (Benedictine Monk),  Richard Irvine  (Open University) - Theologies of Reading

Recitation and Memory
01 November 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Mirina Paananen  (Oxford), Tariq Moqbel (Cambridge) - Theologies of Reading

Reading as Commentary
15 November 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Daniel Boyarin (California), Andrea Schatz (KCL ) - Theologies of Reading

29 November 2017, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building

Clive Scott (East Anglia), David Nowell-Smith (East Anglia) - Theologies of Reading