The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is widely known for his famous poems "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan". The familiar term "psychosomatic," and the phrase "the willing suspension of disbelief," have passed into popular modern usage, while most are unaware of their origin in Coleridge. In fact, Coleridge, along with his friend and collaborator William Wordsworth, who together founded the Romantic Movement in England with the anonymous publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798, have exerted a profound influence upon modern culture. Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalism finds its roots in Coleridge's work, while Blessed John Henry Newman claimed that Coleridge "instilled a higher philosophy into inquiring minds" in England in the early nineteenth century, preparing the way for a whole generation to receive of the teachings of Oxford Movement favorably. These influences have largely been forgotten, even in the academic world, where Coleridge's profound philosophical analyses of the relationships between humans and nature, subject and object, science and art, and his bold and striking theological speculations on the Trinity and the trinitarian structure of creation, have been marginalized and dismissed.
Dr. Michael Raiger, Assistant Professor of Literature at the university, has devoted much of his academic career to recovering Coleridge's Trinitarian thought. Embedded in the life of Coleridge was a stay in Malta, from 1804 to 1805, followed by a nine-month sojourn through Italy, including five weeks in the Vatican where he studied Catholic art and architecture during the Easter season of 1806. It is during his stay in Malta that Coleridge's decade-long fling with Unitarianism (Coleridge's father was an Anglican minister in the Devonshire village Ottery-St. Mary) ended with an acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity—we have the precise moment recorded in one of his notebooks, dated Feb. 12, 1805, 1:30 p.m., in which Coleridge wrote: "No Christ, No God…No Trinity, No God…Unitarianism in all its forms is Idolatry." It is this seminal moment, argues Raiger, and the lengthy stay in the Sistine Chapel the following year, that informs Coleridge's most important reflections on the relationship between art and aesthetics on the one hand, and religious sensibility and theological speculation on the other. The claim is a bold one, and goes against forty years of scholarship on Coleridge, which sees him as borrowing bits and pieces from German Idealism, mostly Kantian, in the construction of a rather esoteric and inconsistent defense of Christianity. To the end of countering this position, Dr. Raiger will travel to Malta in mid-November to deliver a paper entitled, "The Italian Influences on Coleridge's Later Poetic Principles," at the international conference "Encountering Malta: British Writers and the Mediterranean, 1760-1840." The conference is to be held at the University of Malta in Valetta, in the same city where Coleridge served as secretary to Sir Alexander Ball, who with Lord Admiral Nelson, directed the Naval campaign in the Mediterranean against the Napoleonic forces there. While many of his papers from this period, Coleridge claims, have been lost at sea, Raiger will trace the most important of his later theoretical accounts of religious symbolism to Coleridge's cultural, aesthetic, and religious experiences in Malta and Italy. The conference paper will comprise part of a chapter in a book on the development of Coleridge's theory of religious symbolism, on which Raiger is currently working. Dr. Raiger is also slated to teach an elective in the Spring semester of 2012 devoted entirely to Coleridge's writings, entitled, simply and predictably, "Coleridge."