Tolkien Society Online Seminar 2023 – Tolkien and Religion in the Twenty-first Century
26 November 2023
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University of Glasgow

The Tolkien Society Seminar is a short conference of both researcher-led and non-academic presentations on a specific theme pertaining to Tolkien scholarship.The Society held three seminars in 2021 (Twenty-first Century Receptions of Tolkien, Tolkien and Diversity, and Translating and Illustrating Tolkien) and their online setting has seen increased interest with over 700 attendees from 52 countries at ‘Tolkien and Diversity’. After the seminar, all paper recordings from the seminars are uploaded onto the Tolkien Society’s YouTube channel. We are delighted to run hybrid seminars where delegates can enjoy discussions on Tolkien in person and online.

Secondary Believers, Secondary Worlds:
Tolkien and Religion in the Twenty-First Century
Sunday 26th November (Online, Free)

We are thrilled to announce that this seminar will be co-organised by The Tolkien Society and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic!

“Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.” – Letter 131 to Milton Waldman

Although J.R.R. Tolkien deliberately excluded explicit religious references from his legendarium and rejected narrow allegorical readings of The Lord of the Rings, he made no secret of his devout Roman Catholicism and its importance to his sub-creative endeavor. From the creation myth of the “Ainulindalë” to the eucatastrophic destruction of the One Ring, Túrin Turambar’s doomed warrior courage to Frodo Baggins’s self-sacrificial humility, scholars have long examined the influence of Tolkien’s Christian faith and his abiding admiration for pre-Christian legends on the nature and history of Arda. Explorations of the legendarium from other religious perspectives or explicitly nonreligious perspectives have received less attention, however, as have studies of the reception of Tolkien’s work among (non)religious readers and communities.

Fifty years on from Tolkien’s death, as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films celebrate their twentieth anniversary and Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power draws in new fans, Tolkien’s audience has never been wider nor more diverse. This presents Tolkien scholarship with an opportunity to bring varied and underrepresented perspectives on Tolkien and religion into conversation with longstanding currents in the field, thereby enriching our understanding of religious plurality in Tolkien’s secondary world and in our primary world as well.

This seminar welcomes fresh and innovative treatments of the generative interactivity between Tolkien’s fiction, Tolkien’s faith, and the faith (or lack thereof) of the readers who draw deep wells of meaning from his tales of Middle-earth. Papers may address but are in no way limited to the following topics:

  • Underexplored Christian perspectives on the legendarium
  • Reading the legendarium through non-Christian or nonreligious lenses
  • Parallels between the legendarium and other faith traditions
  • Tolkien in conversation with other religious thinkers
  • Religious belief and practice in Middle-earth
  • Critical approaches to faith in Tolkien’s fiction
  • Tolkien’s non-Christian religious influences
  • Tolkien’s historical religious milieu
  • Reception of spiritual themes in Tolkien’s fiction
  • Sub-creation and secondary belief


Below is the schedule. You can also read the paper abstracts here. Papers from the seminar will be recorded and uploaded onto the Tolkien Society YouTube channel after the event. Will and Tom will start and introduce the seminar between 11:00-11:15 (GMT).

Time Speaker Paper
11:00 12:00 6:00 Will Sherwood & Tom Emanuel Opening Comments
11:15 12:15 6:15 Ilana Mushin Finrod the Mensch: A Jewish Perspective
11:45 12:45 6:45 Sonali Chunodkar  Ilúvatar as a Reader/Listener-God: A Barthesian Interpretation of Sub-creation in Tolkien
12:15 13:15 7:15 Alexandra Filonenko On Some Esoteric Motifs in The Silmarillion
12:45 13:45 7:45 Taylor Driggers & Mariana Rios Maldonado Here at the End(s) of All Things: The Fall of Númenor as a Theology of Failure for Middle-earth
13:15 14:15 8:15 Erik Jampa Andersson ‘With Furious Speed’ – Tolkien, Revelation, and the Tibetan Treasure Tradition
13:45 14:45 8:45 BREAK
14:30 15:30 9:30 Hollie Willis ‘Borne away like smoke’: Unpacking J.R.R Tolkien’s Depiction of Cremation in Middle-earth in the Context of Catholic Canon Law
15:00 16:00 10:00 Adam Debosscher The Pyre of Denethor: from suicide on the page to manslaughter on the screen
15:30 16:30 10:30 Rafael Silva Fouto Pagan Magic and the Marvelous: Songs of Enchantment in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion
16:00 17:00 11:00 Brianna Burdetsky Tolkien and Roth: The Legendarium Meets Jewish History
16:30 17:30 11:30 BREAK
17:00 18:00 12:00 Mercury Natis Baruk Khazâd! Antisemitism, Jewish Joy, and Dwarven Contexts
17:30 18:30 12:30 Tom Martin The Tao of Tom Bombadil
18:00 19:00 13:00 Jeffrey Moore Where In the Story Are We?: The Epilogue of The Lord of the Rings and a Retrospective Apocalypse
18:30 19:30 13:30 David Chambers Black Eucatastrophe and Black Power
19:00 20:00 14:00 CLOSING COMMENTS


Sign up to attend the seminar here.