Sublime Cognition: Science Fiction and Metaphysics (2018)

Image credit: American sci-fi illustrator Dean Ellis


The mystical, magical, and metaphysical have often been framed as antithetical to Science Fiction as genre, discourse, or narrative mode. Yet, phenomena of this nature have infused SF in a bewildering complex of cultural representations: Science Fiction has been used as a purportedly secularist framework in which to distil, evaluate, even violently critique religious structures. In a variety of superhuman tropes it has adapted and revamped ancient powers from seership to levitation. Religious concepts and beliefs have been proselytically expressed through SF stories, while, conversely, well-known Science Fiction texts from Stranger in a Strange Land to The Matrix have been treated as holy books by new religious movements. Such cultural intersections may have roots in significant similarities anthropologists and sociologists have observed between the reading, writing and fandom of SF and concepts and practices understood as religious by practitioners. On a more abstract level, SF has been observed to pursue the transcendence, sublimity, and enchantment sought by mystics, magicians, and devotees the world over.

This conference aims to explore the tertiary spaces found between the unstable binaries created by Science Fiction’s historically uncomfortable relationship with the numinous and supernatural. The functional and thematic importance of the metaphysical to SF is now widely acknowledged, but the roles played by such phenomena – and their implications for a wider understanding of SF as genre or mode – have yet to be subject to significant interrogation and debate. We hope that these two days of discussion and debate will provide a way forward (or backward) to understanding some of the implications of these dynamics for the past, present, and future of Science Fiction.

Annual Conference

The conference, which took place on 14th-15th September 2018, featured 36 speakers, as well as special guests Helen De Cruz, Roger Luckhurst, Fiona Moore, Jeff Noon and Justina Robson.

Conference Documentation

Conference Programme
Conference Report (Vector) by Eli Lee
Conference Report (Foundation) by Paul March-Russell. In Foundation 131, to be available online sometime in 2021.
Blog Post by Francis Gene-Rowe