Dialogue and Existential Inquiry Platform (DEIP)
Dialogue and connection centred on the human need for meaning
The play Agnes of God has been staged at the University of Malta Valletta Campus Theatre as part of a wider project aimed at creating a space for dialogue between theists and atheists, based on the approach that whatever our beliefs, we all share a common human experience with lots of questions but few answers.
Agnes of God (written by John Pielmeier and directed by Dr Tyrone Grima) is a three-hander thriller set in a cloistered monastery. In a nutshell, a novice (Kyra Lautier) gives birth to a baby which is found dead a few minutes later. A psychiatrist (Simone Ellul) is commissioned to assess the mental health of the nun but the mother superior (Isabel Warrington) does not make it easy because there is more than meets the eye.
To kickstart the discussion, we published written and video recorded material on social media, focusing on two main topics: ethics and femininity. Following the performances, two webinars were organised to continue exploring the poignant questions raised by the thought provoking drama. To ensure varied opinions and points of view, we involved contributors with different backgrounds: Rev Dr Carlo Calleja, and Dr Pauline Dimech from the Faculty of Theology, Simone Azzopardi from the Faculty of Arts, Prof Vicki Ann Cremona, the chair of the School of Performing Arts, and Gail Debono a forensic psychologist and a member of the Malta Humanist Association.
Initial analysis of the experience indicates that we have managed to engage people with wide-ranging perspectives into dialogue, with an overwhelming feeling that the theatre production helped viewers put themselves in the shoes of the characters and see the world through a different lens. Many valid points have been raised in the webinars (Recordings can be found at: Webinar1, Webinar2), with a central point standing out: What is sometimes blamed on religion, is actually more attributable to human limitations: Whether coming from a science (as the psychiatrist) or religious background (the mother superior), we all have our blindspots and need the perspectives of others to help us see more objectively.
We hope that this project is just one step out of several others in the future, which continue to build a bridge for communication between different polarities of society, based on the deep need in each human person to find meaning in life. Against this backdrop, we are very excited to be launching the innovative Dialogue and Existential Inquiry Platform (DEIP). This platform is a dynamic and creative space for people who are open to dialogue about existentialist themes, even in contexts when there are divergent voices. Ultimately the goal is to nudge participants forward in their journey toward authenticity by (i) nurturing awareness - in the fullest sense of the word - and (ii) encouraging participants to entertain the possibility of a more complex reality - becoming more comfortable with ambiguity. This can be done through a myriad of activities that inspire people to reflect and possibly share their ideas.
Agnes of God was the first project held in the spirit of this dialogue but we already have five new projects lined up with the involvement of many contributors from a wide variety of backgrounds including spirituality, art, science, and philosophy. The themes explored in the projects are likewise wide-ranging: what are different ways through which we have spiritual experiences in this day and age; how do we experience terminal illness - whether we believe in a deity or not; how do we find our authentic selves throughout our life; how can we explore existentialism themes in a fun way - possibly as a game - that is accessible to a wide audience including children? We look forward to raising awareness about this initiative, and above all to help us as a society engage in open and authentic dialogue.