Reflections on Julian Conference
New Visions of Julian of Norwich was described as ‘the first international hybrid conference to focus solely on Julian’s writing, life contexts and influence long after her death.’ It was held over two days in July at Somerville College, Oxford. I was told that there were over 60 delegates who attended in-person and a similar number who participated online. I consider myself privileged to have been there in person.
The conference was opened by a welcoming performance of some of Julian’s texts set to music by modern women composers, performed by members of Somerville College Choir, on the Thursday evening preceding the Conference proper. This was the idea of Dr Alison Daniell and Louise Stewart of Multitude of Voyces. It was a beautiful and meditative performance, with words sung in Middle English and in modern translation, and it was appreciated by all who attended. The Friends of Julian of Norwich were among the sponsors of this event.
Over the next two days, papers were given by over 40 contributors on wide-ranging aspects of Julian studies. Some authors of books, monographs and essays on Julian were speakers, as were some of the academics who have delivered past lectures at the Julian Festival in Norwich over the years. The papers were given in-person and via Zoom from Canada, the U.S. and Japan. There were also four roundtable presentations which enabled dialogue about present-day lived experiences of Julian and her texts and contexts.
The full programme has been published on the Julian of Norwich website. It is to be hoped that some of the excellent papers will be published together as a record.
One of the wonderful features of the conference was the buzz of conversations over the break-times as we were able to discuss further with each other the riches we were encountering. I came away with the possibility of many more avenues of interest to discover and explore – as Dr Godelinde Gertrude Perk said in her opening remarks, ‘Julian is always just around the next corner, beckoning us on.’ I am already looking forward to the next conference.
On the final evening we experienced a ‘world-first’ performance of the play 'Cell' by actor Cindy Oswin, described as ‘darkly humorous,’ which considered some questions of how Julian might have experienced her later enclosed life. It presented some of her wrestling with difficult and painful issues which are apparent or hinted at in the Revelations of Divine Love and in her social and religious context. We were able to discuss the play with Cindy afterwards. It is a work in progress, and it would be interesting to see how it is developed in future performances.
The conference closed with a Gala Dinner – plenty of conversation, no speeches apart from thanks to those who had worked so hard on so many aspects, and a toast to Julian of Norwich!