Autumn Programme 2018

Wednesday 26th September

Chloe Mullet (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on a question of refinement: towards exposing the means and methods of musical creativity

As a musician and music educator for the past twenty years, I became fascinated with how music I created could be, in one moment, ‘fantastic’ – and ‘absolutely awful’, just a short time later. The PhD I am engaged in takes elements of questions implied by this familiar problem, to explore musical processes, by applying Gibson’s theory of affordances (1977) to a series of reflexive case studies. The research reflects the range of my musical interests, and encompasses solo projects, including collaboration/arrangement for John McGrath with the Immix ensemble, multimedia music and dance with Sarah Black and Gemma Breed, structured improvisation as part of a.P.A.t.T., and arrangement for Liverpool’s New Romantic pop-rock group, China Crisis.

This paper takes a closer look at contrasting examples of my practice, in which possibilities are proliferated, accepted and rejected, to propose/expose the interrelatedness of different forms of agency, that ultimately impact the experienced meaning of the music made.  The findings are framed by a series of broad themes that unify the research, namely ‘person’, ‘project’, ‘people’, ‘place’, ‘tools’, and ‘process’, which enable the application of Gibson’s theory of affordance in a range of time-scales and contexts, for the purposes of comparison.

Part of the ambition of this research is that it benefit others, including creative practitioners, so the feedback of the Society will be of great interest.

Chloë Mullett is a Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at The University of Gloucestershire; her PhD research has been generously supported by Manchester Metropolitan University.

Wednesday 10th October

Rebooting the Human Race: Philosophy of Religion and Extra-Terrestrial Human Society

James Woodward, University of Gloucestershire

Wednesday 24th October

Why Value Nature?

Dr Charlotte Alderwick, University of the West of England

Wednesday 7th November

Four Wittgensteinian Defences of Religious Belief and Why They All Fail

Dr Stephen Law, Royal Institute of Philosophy

Wednesday 21st November

Understanding Oneself and Others

Professor Constantine Sandis, University of Hertfordshire

Wednesday 5th November

The Time-Politics Assemblage

Professor Nathan Widder, Royal Holloway, University of London

All sessions will be held at the Francis Close Campus of the University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, at 7 p.m in room HC203.  £2 students/unwaged £3 waged.




Dr Richard Elliott (Newcastle University) will talk on From Sound Objects to Song Objects: Rethinking Sonic Materiality and Metaphor?

Recent years have witnessed an intense interest in the roles played by objects in the world, with many approaches recognising the vital interdependence of human and non-human actors. My current research aims to establish the importance of music (and sound more broadly) in this new terrain of scholarship by analysing how songs represent objects, how songs themselves become meaningful objects and how songs rely on a wide range of ever-changing objects to assure their survival. Using the connecting thread of materiality, I propose an approach to musical analysis that both connects with recent object-centred scholarship and overcomes existing musicological distinctions between music as thing and music as process.

This paper presents an analysis of the ‘song object’, a concept crucial to my research and which has connections to earlier theories of lyric substance as well as to Pierre Schaeffer’s objet sonore (sound object). What constitutes the song object? What kind of object is it? How do songs themselves comment on their construction, their parts, their physicality? I argue that songs are a particular kind of technology for ordering information and that they deploy particular technologies of object orientation in ways distinct from, but comparable to, those of paintings, sculptures, poems and books. Part of my analysis therefore consists of exploring material descriptors and metaphors connected to song, incorporating the artificial (hooks, bridges, etc.) and the natural (cells, viruses, weather systems). I’m interested in what these terms – and their application to song objects – can tell us about the materiality of sound.

Dr Richard Elliott is Senior Lecturer in Music at Newcastle University (UK). His current research focuses on issues of time, age and space in popular music as well as the relationship between music and materiality. He is the author of the books Fado and the Place of Longing (2010), Nina Simone (2013), The Late Voice (2015) and The Sound of Nonsense (2018), as well as articles exploring consciousness, memory, nostalgia, place and space, affect, technology and the relationship between popular music and literature.


Jessica Munns and Penny Richards will talk on Staging History: William Shakespeare, John Banks and Henry VIII: Sex, Gender and Spectacle.

This paper will discuss two plays, roughly sixty years apart, that dramatise the marriage of  Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in very different ways. We shall suggest that what can be seen in the different ways the “story” is staged is an epistemological shift with regard to the idea of what constitutes history, as well as a reconfiguration of gender that in itself rewrites history in what is, of course, an endless process of revision and erasure in the work of memory and forgetting.

Jessica Munns and Penny Richards have written and edited many books together, as well as currently editing the journal Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research. They have both given papers to the Gloucestershire Philosophical Society before.



Dr Martin Wood (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Jalaram Kathā: Exceeding the Capacity of Modern Historiography

Over a period of three evenings in January this year some fifteen hundred devotees of the Gujarati Hindu saint Jalaram Bapa gathered in a community function hall in north west London to partake in a katha or re-telling of the narrative of the life of saint and his wife Virbai Ma.

The key episodes in the narrative that underpin the traditions ethical and philosophical position such as the saint’s his previous lives and the miracles that he performed were narrated by the community’s priest and re-enacted throughout by a number of devotees. Furthermore, whilst the event focused solely upon the above themes at the same time a highly venerated and ritually installed copy of the Ramayana was placed in the centre of the stage which had to all intents and purposes been transformed in to a shrine.

This paper hopes to unpack the role of the katha in the community and the importance of the telling and retelling of the Jalaram narrative and consider the role of the Ramayana in its material form during the katha ritual. I also hope to illustrate how the performance of Katha opens the way for a much deeper religious experience as allows for the reality of transcendent presence and exceeds what we in the west might consider the capacity of modern historiography.



Dr Erin Peters (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Trauma and the English Civil War

‘The Great Civil War of 1642-46 was arguably the most traumatic experience that the English, Welsh and Cornish people had ever had…In many ways the nation never recovered from it’ (Ronald Hutton, 2004). While the actual scars left by this momentous conflict in British history have been subject to intensive scholarly investigation, my talk will investigate the public expressions of the traumatic effect of the Wars and will explore how the trauma caused by the violence and rupture of the Civil Wars eventually found expression in popular print sources. What my analysis of these sources will demonstrate is that commentators on the mid-seventeenth century conflict did acknowledged the presence of war trauma and that they showed an awareness of the therapeutic results of attempting to narrate cultural and individual trauma. I will demonstrate that alongside the official and authorised interpretation of disability as a physical impairment, a popular understanding of the disabling and disfiguring nature of psychological damage developed.

Erin Peters is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Gloucestershire, with specialist interests in seventeenth-century Britain. Combining historical research with an interdisciplinary background in Memory Studies, Erin studies early modern print culture, the history of trauma and nostalgia, and early modern forms of memory and post-conflict cultures. Recently, she is the author of Commemoration and Oblivion in Restoration Print Culture, 1658-1667 (Palgrave, 2017), and ‘“The deep staines these Wars will leave behind”: psychological wounds and curative methods in the English Civil War’ (Manchester UP, 2018).  Currently, Erin is co-editing a collection of essays entitled Early Modern Trauma (forthcoming, Nebraska UP, 2019).


John Ricketts (Gloucestershire Humanists) will talk on Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now

In what might be thought of as an extension of his “The Better Angels of Our Nature” he goes on from the question  “Are we less violent than we were?” to the broader “Is the world a better place than it was?”

For both questions the answer is “YES”

The strength of Pinker’s argument is that he backs up generalisations with facts (lots of them).

John will aim to present a random, maybe eccentric, selection from Pinker’s studies.

John Ricketts started his professional career (teaching biology in state secondary schools) in the early 1960s. This was also a time when he moved away from his C of E roots, and began to explore what a godless life might be like. For the past couple of decades he has been actively involved with Gloucestershire Humanists.

All sessions will be held at the Francis Close Campus of the University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, at 7 p.m in room HC202AandB.



William Large (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Is the Universe Moral?

I would like to discuss whether the moral indifference of the universe to the existence of human species undermines ethics per se. Freud, in the Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis, talks of there being 3 blows to humanity’s pride: we are not at the centre of universe; humans are no different from other animals; we do not even control our conscious lives. But if our lives are essentially meaningless, what would be the point of being ethical, since it makes no difference to the universe whether we are or not? I would like to contrast this nihilism, if that is what it is, with Kant’s concept of the ‘highest Good’. For Kant, if we cannot conceive of the universe as moral from an ethical perspective, then we would fall into moral despair? Are we still convinced by Kant’s argument, and if not, have we fallen into despair?


Paul Bridges (Gloucestershire Philosophical Society) will talk on Democracy: Is it under Threat? Did we ever have it?

In blacker, more pessimistic moods it would be easy to conclude that democracy in many parts of the West is more fragile than it has been for over 70 years.  The murder of Jo Cox, ’fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, the Daily Mail’s ‘Enemies of the People’ headline, the undermining of ‘experts’, Trump’s sacking of James Comey, plus the resurgence of ‘strongman’ leaders such as Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Duterte and Xi may be signalling a reversal of the worldwide trend towards liberalisation and democracy.  But do these events really indicate a threat to democracy?  Or did we ever really have democracy in the first place?  In this participative discussion we will explore what constitutes a healthy, functioning democracy.  Then perhaps we can start to answer the question posed and more importantly figure out what, if anything, we can do about it.



Alan Ford (Gloucestershire Philosophical Society) will talk on Tales of Despair and Integrity: Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky et al.?

A description of some key features of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death will provide parameters for our exploration of the nature of despair: its universality, (as Kierkegaard sees it) its relation to self-deception, its lower and higher forms. Examples from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (perhaps others) will provide flesh and blood examples of despair and integrity in action. I hope to show how the structure of despair follows that of those fundamental binaries, subject/object, mind/body, freedom/necessity, freedom/determinism etc. We shall find how these make thought possible and hence despair and self-deception. It will be shown how these binaries should relate, and that they are not, as is often assumed, necessarily unrelated oppositions. This might then cast light on the nature of personal integrity.



Tom Bradshaw (University of Gloucestershire) will talk on Sports Journalism and Moral Philosophy – Why the Sports Media needs to think more.

Sports journalism has been disparagingly referred to as the “toy department” of the newsroom, with reporters often characterised as being too close to the teams and individuals they are covering, but Tom will consider the increasing importance of high-calibre sports journalism that is informed by a strong ethical awareness. The types of practical reasoning used by sports journalists during the course of their professional practice will be explored. A distinction between a duty-based Kantian approach to sports newsgathering and a more professionally pragmatic, consequentialist approach will be explored. Issues of self-censorship in sports journalism – and journalism more generally – will also be discussed. Tom will bring his 17 years of experience as an award-winning journalist to bear in the course of his analysis.



Peter Osborn (Gloucestershire Philosophical Society) will talk on The Tyranny of Religion

Globally and historically, mankind has had an urgent and persistent need to believe and worship God or Gods. Wherever and whenever you look this need is prevalent. However, in parallel with this need is a more sinister one: the need to dominate, bully and coerce. When these needs combine, a potent force emerges: organised religion! In Greco-Roman times polytheism was accepted and, in general, tolerated. However, when the Emperor Constantine came to power, monotheism in the form of Christianity became the only religion allowed. From then on the persecution, by Christians, of other beliefs began. My talk traces the history of this tyranny, and its consequences.


All sessions will be held at the Francis Close Campus of the University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, at 7 p.m in room HC202AandB.