Science Corner: A Trip to ΘeoCon

TheoCon logo; a graphic version of the name

Theology meets comic convention!?! Let’s go!

There are still a number of great folks chatting with me about sci-fi films for our film festival, but those conversations are still in midstream so we’re taking a break this week. Instead, I’d like to tell you a little bit about an event I had the privilege to participate in last month: ΘeoCon. ΘeoCon (read: TheoCon) is a mash-up of an academic theology conference and a comic book convention. Where else can you hear a thoughtful lecture about the multiplex nature of personhood alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi, John Constantine, a Handmaid and the Biblical witch of Endor?

I have more to share about ΘeoCon, but first a word from our sponsor. October snuck up on me; I should have mentioned this last week. Science and Faith, the collection of STEAM-funded essays edited by Hannah Eagleson, is now available for purchase! You can now hold in your hands the wise and insightful musings of Ruth Bancewicz, Royce Francis, Jim Stump and many other great scientists, theologians and scholars. They share their responses to real questions about science and Christian faith asked by real students. Even better, the material has been revised and expanded based on feedback from students who used the material in small groups. So it is a field-tested discussion guide ready for the people in your life who are curious about how Christian beliefs function in the context of 21st century science.

Back to ΘeoCon. The day started with a mini-concert from a local youth string ensemble performing highlights from sci-fi film and TV scores. That was followed up by the aforementioned lecture by A. David Lewis, a religion and literature scholar who studies medicine and healthcare in comics, particularly related to cancer. Many artists have chosen to process through their diagnoses and treatment experiences via autobiographical comics. He also studies religion in comics, as well as writing new stories featuring the first Muslim superhero character Kismet, who was created in the 1940s and recently entered public domain. At ΘeoCon Lewis shared about the intersection of these two threads of inquiry, focusing on issues of identity as expressed in various comics.

Then I went to a panel on redemption in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was recorded as an episode of the Church of the Geek podcast that you can listen to here:

After lunch, we heard from Ram Devineni, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who now produces comics about Priya, an Indian woman who becomes an activist for women’s and victims’ rights after being the victim of violence herself. Mixing traditional Hindu mythology with innovative augmented reality technology, the comics look to bring social change to India and the world. To that end, the comics are available for free if you’d like to see them for yourself.

I attended a session on Death as a personified figure in the Bible and in video games; it was recorded for the No Avatars Allowed podcast but the episode is not posted yet. Concurrent to that was a session about Canon: The Card Game that you can read more about here. Afterwards, I talked about the role that science fiction can play inviting people into science & faith conversations. There were other sessions throughout the day, some of which may show up on future podcasts such as the Sectarian Review. There were also comic book vendors and on-site video gaming. You can see the full schedule here.

The overall experience was eclectic, both theologically and culturally. And so grace overflowed, as we made space for each other’s passions and perspectives. The broad scope of the event may be relatively unusual, but a more conventionally themed gathering targeting an existing community would not have as many opportunities for graciousness.

Next year ΘeoCon will be coming to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That’s where I live, so I’ll be there and I think it would be great if you were there too.

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. His book Faith across the Multiverse is available from Hendrickson.

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