The mental faculty of “imagination” (from the Latin imaginatio) or “phantasy” (from the Greek phantasia) is not simply an added extra that we can engage in during moments of inspiration; it is an integral part of human thought as some of the greatest philosophers have recognised (e.g. Kant and Hegel). But there have been figures throughout human history who have engaged in imagination to such a depth that they have changed the way we understand the human person, the world, and even the divine. These are the “myth-makers” who not only create myths but also may be said to discover them in the deepest levels of reality; the artists who have created great works of visual art, literature, and music, such that they have the capacity to disclose the deepest truths of the world; and the great scientists who with spontaneous flow of thought and leaps of the imagination have uncovered the mysteries of the world and how the human person perceives such a world.

My own work is interdisciplinary: it centres on theology but also considers how theology relates to the natural sciences (especially physics) and music (especially Richard Wagner). Imagination in all its forms is essential for this work and finding time for “letting go of myself” (even in the middle of a busy day) fosters my research. What Hegel writes about thought generally is relevant to how I understand my work of “imagination”: “When I think I give up my subjective particularity, sink myself in the matter, let thought follow its own course; and I think badly whenever I add something of my own” (Encyclopaedia Logic, § 24 addition 2).


Richard H. Bell is Professor of Theology, University of Nottingham, UK investigating the theological, ethical, and artistic interests of the composer Richard Wagner.