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What is the Imagination?

Braniff Graduate Student Association Hosts 4th Annual Conference in the Liberal Arts 

Scholars Gather to Explore the Nature of the Imagination

Date Published: Jan. 3, 2018 

 What is the imagination? This great question has been wrestled with in a myriad ways throughout the Western intellectual tradition, whether it be by philosophers, poets, political theorists or psychologists. In the upcoming annual Braniff Conference in the Liberal Arts (Jan. 26-27), the students and faculty of Braniff Graduate School will enter into this dialogue, discussing the role and function of the imagination from a whole host of perspectives and disciplines across the liberal arts.

The highlight of the conference, which takes place Jan. 26-27 at the University of Dallas will be the keynote address, given by Eva Brann, former dean and the longest standing tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Not only is Brann a widely renowned scholar, being a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and having earned degrees from both Brooklyn College and Yale; she has also published extensively on both the role and purpose of the liberal arts and the theme of imagination, making her a perfect fit for this year’s conference.

“We invited Eva Brann because her methodology is very much in line in our great books approach, as well as she’s published on the imagination,” said James DeMasi, President of the Braniff Graduate Student Association. “One of her works, The Paradoxes of Education in a Republic, is even taught in our Core in Dr. Hanssen’s and Mr. Papadopoulos’ ‘History of Liberal Arts Education’ course.

Regarding the choice of this year’s theme, DeMasi said that it came after a realization of the powerful presence of the question of the imagination, one that traverses multiple disciplines and subject areas: “When we were thinking this year about a theme that must be accessible to all disciplines and important to all disciplines, we all arrived at the imagination because it seems to be a concept that is so prevalent in the Western tradition, whether under the auspices of fancy or in trying to understand what poetry is or when thinking of the philosophers of the mind.”

After discovering this “pressing reality of the presence of the imagination,” DeMasi said that he and his fellow committee members realized that while they had many questions regarding the imagination, they found themselves at a loss for answers to those questions. “That is always the birth of this conference: getting together these questions and then soliciting these outside voices to come in and dialogue from multiple disciplines and multiple institutions to carry on a conversation that everyone will benefit from, and then also pick a keynote who can give authoritative and insightful comments on whatever the theme is.”

Not only will the conference prove invaluable in beginning this intellectual dialogue to answer these lingering questions; it also will provide graduate students an opportunity to gain experience in conferencing and an occasion to interact with faculty and students both from within and outside the University of Dallas community.

“One of the main missions [of the BGSA] is to provide the intellectual environment for the kinds of conversations that contribute informally to our formal education,” reflected DeMasi. “And so the conference is supposed to provide space or an opportunity to interact with voices and disciplines that are not your everyday voices and disciplines, in such a way that it allows you access to different modes of thinking.”

While this conference greatly benefits Braniff graduate students, DeMasi also encouraged members of the undergraduate community to attend. “This conference is a great time to come and have conversations with graduate students that are in your own institution who you might otherwise never meet, and the material will definitely be accessible and pertinent to every University of Dallas student,” he said. He also stressed that students should take advantage of this rare opportunity to hear Eva Brann speak and encouraged them to come simply to hear her keynote address, adding that the event will not at all conflict with the Groundhog festivities also held that weekend.

“Brann has established herself as a voice in the conversation, a contemporary who is inundated and completely saturated by the Western tradition, who has published and joined the public dialogue in the most effective way possible concerning this question of what the imagination is and why we should care what the imagination is, both the ‘what’ and the ‘ought’,” he said. “They might never have another chance to hear her speak again.”


 The conference will be held from January 26-27, 2018 on the University of Dallas campus. It will begin on Friday evening with a plenary address given by Dr. Dennis Sepper, Ph.D. from UD’s philosophy department, followed by a day of presentations by scholars from other academic institutions, with responses by Braniff students and faculty. The event will conclude with the keynote address from distinguished visiting scholar, Eva Brann.

Learn more about the 4th Annual Braniff Conference in the Liberal Arts »

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