June 18, 2020

Simone Weil and the Poetry of Conversion

A seminar led by Emily King (Zephyr Institute & University of Chicago Divinity School)

Time & Location

June 18, 2020


Once described by Camus as “the only great spirit of our times,” the French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943) is experiencing a scholarly revival today for her insights on metaphysics and politics, notably in Gravity and Grace, Waiting for God, and The Need for Roots. Though she refrained from formal baptism, her writings and her life undeniably involve a turning toward God. An admirer of Plato, Weil moreover held that the experience of reading poetry, with its focus on beauty, form, and restraint, is strikingly reflective of spiritual conversion. In this seminar, we examined Weil’s account of her conversion in Waiting for God, particularly as it related to her understanding of poetry and attention.

Emily King (Zephyr Institute & University of Chicago Divinity School) gave an overview of Weil’s intellectual and spiritual biography, the main trajectories in her work, and the central points of the readings. The question & answer and discussion periods, which included several Weil scholars, focused on three issues in particular: 

  • Decreation: metaphysical dynamics, experiential possibilities, and influences from Christian and Jewish mystical sources

  • Attention: how in the posture of waiting Weil recognized the moment of truth’s illumining; whether attention functions differently based on the object of experience (e.g., religious vs. non-religious poetry, poetry vs. painting) 

  • The question of Christianity in Weil’s life and thought

This was the first event in Zephyr's summer of poetry and theology. 

Suggested Readings

  1. Simone Weil, Letter IV “Spiritual Autobiography,” Waiting for God, Harper Perennial, 1992, pages 61-83. 

  2. Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” Waiting for God, Harper Perennial, 1992, pages 105-116. 




Summer Fellow, Zephyr Institute & Graduate Student, University of Chicago Divinity School

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