Owen Barfield book project

Some years ago, worried about my students’ growing dependence on their devices, I read some Stephen Talbott (here and here), where I found repeated reverential references to some wise-sounding personage named Owen Barfield, whose observations on the relationship between consciousness and technology Talbott could not stop quoting. I no longer remember exactly what Talbott wrote about Barfield. Suffice it to say I looked up this personage and discovered he was an influential member of The Inklings (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis et al). The Inklings! Who doesn’t love J.R.R. Tolkien? Who hasn’t read The Screwtape Letters, or The Chronicles of Narnia?  But Barfield wasn’t a fantasy icon, nor was he a Christian beacon. Instead he was a lawyer who wrote philosophy, a centenarian with a perspective that fascinated me.

I began to devour his writings firsthand ( http://www.owenbarfield.org/ and http://davidlavery.net/barfield/ ), and found to my astonishment that there would be a Barfield Society meeting at the annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association that very October right here in Salt Lake City. I connected with the organizers of that meeting and began presenting for them at RMMLA the next year, earning kind recognition for my several papers/essays from Barfield’s grandson and becoming so familiar with Barfield’s notion of the evolution of consciousness that it began to be my own. (That’s the key in learning: when it’s no longer somebody else’s idea, but your own.)  I’m no longer worried about my students’ dependence on their devices—I’ve diverged a long way from Talbott’s position—but here is a recent email correspondence regarding my current Barfield work in progress: 

Dear Professor Nichols

I'm writing to inform you about a book being planned on Owen Barfield, following a recent conference on his work in Oxford. The general theme is "Owen Barfield in contemporary contexts- exploring his thought and influence." Topics and disciplinary approaches are open, depending on the preferences/expertise of authors.

Just in case you have the time or desire, you would be very welcome to contribute a chapter to the collection. I suspect you are very busy but please let me know if you need more information (if interested), or if you can think of a scholar who may be interested.

Many thanks
Best, Martin Ovens

Hello Martin,

I'm honored to have been thought of in connection with this project. I assume you have the names of Jane and Terry Hipolito, Peter Shields, and Jefferey Taylor, as a few of the members of the Barfield Society which meets annually at the conference of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. (I dare to presume that you actually obtained my name from the Hipolitos.) At that conference I most recently (three Octobers ago?) presented on the necessity of the body in spiritual progression as taught by Rudolf Steiner and Joseph Smith and as explored by Barfield. I would love to contribute that work to this book. Shall I send you a rudimentary draft of that presentation, for your approval and editorial suggestions? What is the time frame for the production of the book?

I am never too busy to contribute to a project that has my heart. Please keep me in the loop. If the above topic doesn't suit, I do have other papers on Barfield I'm sure I could adapt to your needs, but this is one I have a special affinity for.

Thank you again for including me in the plans for the book.


Julie J. Nichols

Dear Julie,

I'm really pleased you can contribute, the topic seems fine and very interesting and it will be best to develop what you prefer.

At the moment all I need is a working title and summary or abstract (specifically to suit the publisher) … there are a couple of UK publishers interested in the book, but I will not sign a contract until I've gathered a decent number of commitments from authors. So far I have around ten, which is actually enough, but I'm waiting on a few more. Jefferey Taylor and his wife, Leslie, are contributing, I will be contacting Jane and Terry Hipolito shortly (I don't have contact details for Peter Shields, please let me know if you are in touch with him).

I organised the conference with the help of Owen Barfield's grandson, and so I first came across you from information obtained from him.

Speakers at the conference are mainly reworking their papers, while I have a few others starting papers anew, so I am not expecting completed papers until later in the year.

Many thanks
Best, Martin

Hello Martin,

I'm embarrassed to say I got Peter's name wrong. It's Peter Fields, in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Here is a draft of the piece I was thinking of. It could use some > serious expansion. I'll welcome any editorial suggestions. A working title is "Godbodied: A Comparison of Barfieldian and Mormon Texts Regarding the Shared Nature and Role of Divine and Human Matter in the Evolution of Human Consciousness." That title could probably use some serious minimizing.

A summary might read something like this:

**Numerous Barfield works, including but not limited to "Philology and the Incarnation," "'The Son of God' and 'The Son of Man,'" and Worlds Apart explore the intimate connection between embodied consciousness and spiritual progression. Similarly, the American nineteenth-century religious leader Joseph Smith's "King Follett Discourse" declares emphatically that human embodiment is an essential part of spiritual reality. This essay compares these texts and others, concluding that in both Smith's and Barfield's cosmologies, the earthly body constitutes a vital aspect of the work in progress between heaven and humans. The ramifications are myriad, and if they're taken seriously (as Barfield clearly did), so are the implications for personal responsibility, health, caregiving, and general awareness. Human consciousness does not exist, in short, without the body. **

I have co-written two books about "the body's map of consciousness" with the innovative healer Lansing Barrett Gresham (see here--our books are in the "Store" at this website) and may, if there's room and appropriate place, discuss Integrated Awareness principles of the body's role in consciousness in light of Barfield's "evolution of human consciousness," as part of this essay.

I look forward to hearing more from you, and, if all goes well, working with you toward a most enlightening book.


Julie J. Nichols

Dear Julie,

Many thanks for this detail, what a great topic. I will read through it and get back to you, I'm pleased you will be developing this comparison.

Another contributor to the book is Bruce Charlton who has been thinking about reincarnation and the evolution of consciousness in Barfield.

Thanks also for clarification on 'Peter Shields' - I wondered why I'd not come across his details!


Dear Julie

FYI here is a list of topics/contributors committed to the book so far, including you, Peter Fields has agreed to write too. Some people are contributing two chapters on different themes.

1. Jefferey and Leslie Taylor:  "Shifting Consciousness on the boundaries of modernity: Barfield,

Lewis, and the allegory of the Faerie Queen" and “Owen Barfield and the contours of meaning."

2. Bruce Charlton: "Mis/understanding Barfield as therapeutic: the role of Christianity in Owen Barfield's metaphysical system" and "Examining the nature of evidence for Barfield's evolution of consciousness"

3. Mark Atherton: "Owen Barfield and Tolkien"

4. Julie Nichols: "The shared nature and role of divine and human matter in the evolution of human consciousness in Owen Barfield and Mormon Texts"

5. Fanfan Chen: Title TBA

6. Angus Jenkinson: Title TBA (area is economics and organisation theory

7. Fraser Watts: "Barfield and Christian Theology" and "The Evolution of human participation: Barfield in dialogue with modern science”

8. Peter Fields: William James, Owen Barfield and consciousness