Space Enough and Room: Divisions, Distributions and Designations of Place

Speakers: Catherine A. Grisé (Department of English & Cultural Studies McMaster University)
Craig G. Bartholomew (H. Evan Runner Chair of Philosophy, Redeemer University College & Paideia Centre for Public Theology)
Date: 16th January 2014, 10:30am
Venue: Engineering Technology Building (ETB) B121


A burial plot, a courthouse, a temple, a shopping mall, a shrine, a ballpark… what activities, what rituals and liturgies do each of these places demand? We divide or combine certain places and conduct ourselves differently according to the designations assigned to them. The places we produce in turn determine our practices, our routines and rituals. There exists a feedback loop of artifice and activity with the places we produce; the user and the maker continually interlace with one another in the places made and used, and there is no place for the imitator. Place is infinitely malleable, infinitely convertible. Yet as much as we modify places, we ourselves come to be modified by the places we occupy for long or short durations, which in turn, determines how and why we may come to modify other places and, in turn, be modified by them, etc. We are always already in place. Within any possible placial milieu in which I may be distributed, I perform functions in accordance with the dictates of the places I occupy. At a football game, I behave this way, in a public bathroom I act that way, if I am at a night club I move this way, if I am at a church I perform that function … and if I find my self in the wilderness, then what? But, why should I obey the unspoken rules that a place as produced, as productive, demands? Or is it even up to me whether or not I can? There are, it seems, a thousand liturgies for a thousand places, but they all appear to reduce to our need to signify beyond the places where such activities function. Indeed, inasmuch as the setting apart aspect of place-making demands a certain piety and obedience, the construction, designation and cultivation of place seems, at least in part, to be inherently religious. So what clue does the religious relation to place, place-making and place-keeping provide for the question of human being? The present colloquium intends to make just such an investigation.

Mystical Identity and Contemplative Space: Catherine of Siena and the Medieval Christian Tradition
Catherine A. Grisé

This talk discusses the ways in which medieval Christian female mystics create a sense of identity and community within their environment and place. The late fourteenth-century Italian visionary Catherine of Siena will be my case study, with relevant examples drawn from other mystics as necessary, and I will illustrate my paper with pictures taken from the Middle English translation of Catherine's revelations, The Orcharde of Syon. Christian visionaries employed a multiple view of space and place for they inhabited a unique, intermediary position between this world and the next. Moreover, many lived in monasteries or other religious communities where there were times and places for contemplative practices that cultivated an interior space of reflection, prayer and meditation. Christian theology demanded attention both to the preparation of this interior space where one receives God and to the exterior space where one demonstrates one's absorption of Christian teachings through one's behaviour in community. Mystical identity was further complicated by the fact that their extreme behaviour was often misunderstood by those around them, yet in order to be successful they required official sanction for their allegiance to a higher level of Christian behaviour and often they identified with the long tradition of Christian martyrs and ascetics as their true community. This paper will explore how Catherine of Siena negotiated these inner and outer spaces as she developed and maintained her mystical identity.

Place In/And the Christian Tradition
Craig G. Bartholomew

Using the controversy surrounding Caspar David Friedrich’s art, in which he placed the cross and church in wilderness settings, as a starting point, this paper will explore the potential for Christian theology to contribute to a vibrant philosophy and practice of place-making today. It will be argued that the Christian tradition contains largely unexploited resources in this respect and key points in the tradition will be identified from which such a view can be developed. Particular attention will be given to the distortions in contemporary practice of place and the question posed of what this could mean for Hamilton today.