Owen Barfield and the Oxford Inklings: Philosophical Explorations


We begin by studying the emergence of the Oxford University literary group known as the ‘Inklings,’ and then move on to our key focus – the life, work, influence and current relevance of the philosopher, critic and poet Owen Barfield (1898-1997), known as “the first and last Inkling.”

We will explore and evaluate essential elements of Barfieldian thought, and consider Barfield’s influence on JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

Initially we examine Barfield’s background and interests, from Plato to Coleridge, Goethe and Rudolf Steiner. Then we explore some of his most important and influential works, including Poetic Diction, Saving the Appearances and Worlds Apart.

Eventually we will be in a position to discuss Barfield’s thought in relation to contemporary philosophical discourse.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city.

Please note that OUDCE reserves the right to alter course content and/or cancel field trips in accordance with government guidance.

Who were the ‘Inklings’? We begin by turning back to Oxford University in the early 1930’s and the emergence of the literary group known as the ‘Inklings.’ As well as Owen Barfield, we encounter JRR Tolkien (1892-1973), CS Lewis (1898-1963) and Charles Williams (1886-1945). We will begin to grasp problems about the relationships between Barfield, Tolkien and Lewis.    

We embark upon a close examination of the life, work and thought of Barfield. Our initial concerns involve the nature of his philosophy, including his background, interests and influences. Here we discuss: Plato and Neoplatonism; Romanticism and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834); philosophical idealism; Goethe (1749-1832); Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and anthroposophy. We continue by exploring Barfield’s Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1928). 

Following Poetic Diction, two works will form the basis of our discussions – Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry (1957) and the dialogical Worlds Apart (1963). These texts will familiarise us with key terms, concepts and arguments developed by Barfield. At this stage we are able to discuss a range of views, ideas and problems concerning meaning, language, history, ‘evolution of consciousness,’ ‘participation,’ imagination, religion, myth, science, knowledge and so on.      

We examine the close friendship between Barfield and CS Lewis, and Barfield’s intellectual influence on Lewis and Tolkien. Among topics discussed here will be Christianity, myth, metaphor, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Allegory of Love, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, methexis and ‘final participation.’   

From consciousness studies to economics and literary theory, we discuss the contemporary relevance and application of Barfieldian thought, and explore a variety of figures influenced by his work. By seeking to understand and situate Barfield’s oeuvre, we facilitate critique and evaluation. We will be able to relate Barfield’s thought to contemporary philosophical discourse.    



Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals) £1565.00
Fee option 2 (single standard accom and meals) £1380.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals) £1472.50
Fee option 4 (double en suite accom and meals) £1472.50
Fee option 5 (twin set standard accom and meals) £1380.00
Fee option 6 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner) £1070.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments (and refunds) are subject to exchange rates at the time of processing.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking
  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date

Cancellations and refunds

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk or by post to The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid

  • Cancellations received up to and including 31 May 2021 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-30 June 2021 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 July 2021 - no refunds will be made.

Important note: You need to take out travel insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs.


Dr Martin Ovens

Martin Ovens has taught courses in Philosophy and Religious Studies for OUDCE since 2005 and is currently editing two books on Barfield.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. Elements of this teaching will normally include mini lectures and presentations by tutors and tutor-led class discussions.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2021.

Please note: most courses fill up fast so early registration is strongly recommended.

Single accommodation and non-residential places may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at oxfordexperience@conted.ox.ac.uk

Those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form as these rooms cannot be booked online. Completed forms should be sent:

Covid-19 guidance for summer school participants

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of participants is our highest priority. We've introduced a range of measures to protect you when you are in university and college buildings, in accordance with University and UK government guidelines. These measures may include: enhanced cleaning regimes and additional facilities for hand washing and hand sanitising; spaces adapted to support social distancing with clear signage and markings; a requirement for the wearing of face coverings during in-person teaching and in indoor shared spaces.

You'll be required to follow University and UK government guidelines whilst in Oxford, and to sign a ‘Student Responsibility Agreement’ in advance of the course, confirming that you will do so (this will be similar to the version for University students, which you can review online).  Further information is available at https://www.ox.ac.uk/coronavirus/health. You should particularly review the University’s Face Coverings policy, which you will need to comply with at all times on University property.

If UK government regulations require you to quarantine on arrival in the UK, then you will need to arrange this yourself at your own expense. Unfortunately, we aren’t permitted to let you quarantine in University accommodation. Travel is not encouraged – and may not be permitted – if you are travelling from or through a country on the UK government’s ‘red list’.

If we have to cancel your course

Should it be necessary to cancel your course, we will make every reasonable effort to give you as much notice of cancellation as possible, and we will refund all course fees paid by you (including the cost of accommodation, if booked through us as part of your course). Where course fees have been paid in currencies other than in pounds sterling, refunds will be subject to the exchange rate on the date they are processed.

The Department cannot be held responsible for any costs you may incur in relation to travel or accommodation bookings as a result of a course cancellation, or if you are unable to attend the course for any other reason. You are advised to check cancellation policies carefully and to purchase travel insurance.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

Participants should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite

  • Single standard

  • Twin en suite

  • Double en suite

  • Standard ‘twin set’

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Standard rooms have their own washbasin and shaver point but bathroom facilities are shared. ‘Twin sets’ comprise two single rooms opening off a sitting room.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form. (See “Application”.)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form), together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.

We also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals (lunch and dinner) at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.