Tag Archives: Nature

‘Human Flourishing in Times of Stress’ at York Festival of Ideas

The York Festival of Ideas is happening – online! And I will be part of a very topical panel on ‘Human Flourishing in Times of Stress’ with archaeologist Penny Spikins, journalist Tim Radford and professor of Natural Philosophy Tom McLeish, as chair.  The event will be free (!) but ticketed – you can sign up for tickets here.

‘Our conversation will explore how stories, things and thinking can bring comfort in times of stress.

Franziska Kohlt asks why many of us have felt drawn to the comfort of childhood classics –often unjustly dismissed as ‘escapism’. She explores how books like Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, or The Water-Babies, were written in times of epidemics, illness and crisis, and how these works can be valuable emotional tools to carry us through crisis.

Penny Spikins asks why in times of crisis we turn to programmes like The Repair Shop to find some sense of comfort, and why cherished possessions seem to help when we feel stressed or isolated. She explores where our tendency to attach to things came from in our evolutionary past and how finding attachments to objects can compensate for missing human relationships at times of stress or isolation.

Tim Radford’s contribution comes from his recent book, The Consolation of Physics. It is both a conversation with the past and a celebration of the shared scientific tradition of generosity and co-operation that has taken human understanding, mediated by international experiment, to the edge of the solar system, to the origins of Universe and to cataclysmic star-death in distant galaxies.

Our conversation is chaired by Tom McLeish, the University of York’s first Professor of Natural Philosophy and author of The Poetry and Music of Science.’

The recording of the event is available on YouTube:

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New Job & Affiliation!

I am incredibly excited to have joined the University of York’s Department of Sociology as a Research Fellow on their “Narratives of Science and Religion” project in March, to work with Professor Tom McLeish (Physics) and Dr Amanda Rees (Sociology), who are both utterly brilliant.

This is the narrative-based branch of project of the collaborative ECLAS project, based at Durham, London and York, which brings together scientists, science historians, communication scientists, theologians and professional clergy to investigate effective ways to understand and communicate science, asking all “the Big questions”.

In a rather tumultuous start to the post, I have hit the ground running, researching religious narratives in the Covid-19 crisis in, but especially outside religious discourses, in politics and science journalism (wonder why we keep hearing baout the “sacrifice” of health workers, Covid as a “punishment for x”, from which “lessons” must be learned, and all this being a “war” in which various actors are fighting a “virtuous” fight?). I examine what happens when religious language is instrumentalised by politicians and journalists in a medical crisis, why and when they decide they do so, when they have historically done so, and what can be learned from that about the uses and pitfalls of such rhetoric.

To view the effect of such communication not only in a theoretical framework, but to also understand its dynamics in action, I examine this not only in a Science Communication framework, but also through responses to epidemics in the past. The Reverend Charles Kingsley, for instance, harnessed rousing Biblical imagery to communicate the findings of modern population health sciences – but also to hold governments and institutions to account – during the nineteenth-century cholera crises, to draw equally substantial audiences to his “Cholera sermons” at Westminster Abbey, his lectures at Cambridge University or at the Ladies’ Sanitary Association (which went by such attention-grabbing tiles as “The Pharaoh’s Heart” or “The Massacre of the Innocents”).

I am looking forward to draw on my experience with effective science communication in media and museums, and my previous academic work on the role imaginative and fantastic literatures played in digesting, contextualising and communicating new scientific findings, and their practical societal and epistemological implications (Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and indeed Kinsgley were all critical and unconventional clerics – and science communicators).

Watch this space for upcoming conference and journal papers, as well as some shorter public pieces, which are already in the works (and soon hopefully even more thrilling stuff, when we move on to the environment, AI, genetic engineering – and more)!

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Children’s Literature and Science Seminar at Edinburgh

This phenomenal-looking seminar on Children’s Literature and Science, and the many facets of the field, will be taking place this Friday at Edinburgh Napier University. I will be giving my first paper on my new research project on children’s literature and its role in environmentalism. If you’d like to attend please contact em.alder@napier.ac.uk – and definitely watch this space for more on this field from Edinburgh in the future!

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IRSCL Panel ‘The Silence of Nature: Children’s Literature and Science’

The biannual IRSCL conference “Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature” will take place at the University of Stockholm in August, and I am pleased that our panel on Children’s Literature and Science has just been accepted! It will cover ground from Morris to Moomins – and contain the following papers:

– Franziska Kohlt “Conversations with beetles: The struggle against Nature’s Silence in Victorian and contemporary CliFi for children
– Jenny Willner “Cell biology and Melancholy in the Moomin Valley: Homsan, Haeckel and the Life of Protozoa”
– Vera Kaulbarsch “Silence, Ghosts and Nature in Walter Benjamin’s Texts on Childhood”

Hope to see some of you there!

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