What’s a Convivium?

A while back, some good friends of mine convinced me to start up a little theological/book discussion group, which now meets about once a month. I’m one of those people who thinks every group has to have some kind of cool name. My friends actually proposed calling this gathering “An Evening with Doug,” which struck me as decidedly uncool, so I began to brainstorm. My favorite philosopher, Michael Polanyi, spends a lot of words on the social component of human exploration and discovery, for which he coined the term conviviality. I love that word because it’s etymology seems to capture the idea that life is a fellowship. But conviviality is something a group experiences, not the group that experiences it. Furthermore, the dictionary I had access to was no help at all

I decided to ask my English teacher friend what the noun form of convivial might be. “Convivium?” she said, like it was a question, and I knew it was exactly right. Plus, since I couldn’t find this word in any English dictionary, I thought it was completely original.

The problem with this name is that it requires explanation every time it’s used. Fortunately, a third friend who also participates in our little group, thought of googling the word and sharing his results. Turns out it’s not at all original; it’s just Latin. A long, long time ago the word meant any kind of fellowship or gathering organized around a common interest among the participants. Later, it got focussed on food and came to mean simply a feast. Recently–very recently–the word has been adopted by people who identify themselves as the Slow Food Movement, which is a bunch of little clubs that promote the home-preparation of locally grown foods–they’re swimming against the tide of fast-food and food that comes in little boxes from a factory. They use the word convivium for their gatherings.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a perfect name for what we’re trying to do. Our convivium isn’t about food (though we always have some food); rather, it’s a feast of the mind, a sort of theological slow food movement for people who want to be better connoisseurs of the glory of God. We’re having one this Saturday, and I can’t wait.


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