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Theopoetics: Icons of the South

When: June 10, 2021, 9:00 am - Thursday

Where: Swang 230

Session 3

Session Abstract

Southern culture is strongly shaped by the arts, including religion, music, and storytelling. The intersection of justice, spirituality, imagination, embodiment and the arts, is sometimes referred to as theopoetics–which combines elements of poetry, process thought, narrative theology, and postmodern philosophy. By looking at the music of Drive-By Truckers, T-Bone Burnett, and the stories of Will Campbell, this session will focus on truths of the imagination—humans seeking transformation.


Paper Abstracts

Heath Carpenter, Harding University, “T Bone Burnett and ‘Country’ Music’s Contested Theology”

Through his movie soundtracks, original songs, and community of artists he has produced, T Bone Burnett’s work begs a question for contemporary Southern identity:  what in Southern traditions is worth retaining, what is worth rejecting, and what is worth transforming. These questions could all be framed theologically, too, as religion bobs and weaves like a kaleidoscope’s concentric circles throughout the music and the ethos. Challenging false dichotomies and media-perpetuated stereotypes, we can read Burnett’s output as a philosophical and theological test case for the contested spaces of political, social, and musical divide.


Vinson (Lee) Edwards, Harding University, “Jesus, Popular Culture, and the Politics of the Margins: A Theomusicological Analysis of the Drive-By Truckers”

The late James H. Cone argued that the blues, despite their secular and oftentimes even profane nature, are not the Devil’s music, but rather, a necessary supplement to compensate for the church’s shortcomings. Decades later, standing on the shoulders of Cone, et al, I ask, can a group of self-proclaimed “heathens” provide us with similar supplements, and what can they teach us about our shortcomings?


Vic Hunter, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Retired, “Will Campbell: Theopoetic Preacher, and Profane Priest”

As a poet, Will Campbell brought “news from the heart.” As profane priest, he took on the literal meaning of the word profane, “living outside the temple.” As an equal opportunity prophet, he brought that news into a social-political-religious context. I explore the importance of the contributions made to those who wish to follow the call and live the vision of Jesus in the context of a religion-soaked culture, exploring this southern theopoetic preacher and priest, using Will’s cane as a metaphor. I extract eight important things Will teaches us about Mr. Jesus, katallagete and koinonia.


Micki Pulleyking, Missouri State University, Convener

  • Heath Carpenter, Harding University, “T Bone Burnett and ‘Country’ Music's Contested Theology”
  • Vinson (Lee) Edwards, Harding University, “Jesus, Popular Culture, and the Politics of the Margins: A Theomusicological Analysis of the Drive-By Truckers”
  • Vic Hunter, Independent Scholar, Denver, CO, “Will Campbell: Theopoetic Preacher, and Profane Priest”

2024 information coming soon!

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James Cone with conferee at the CSC in 2017

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Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson delivering the CSC plenary address

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Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), delivering the CSC plenary address.

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US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith delivering the CSC plenary address

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David Brooks engaging conferees during breakfast at the CSC

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