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Cultural Identity, Pluralism and Globalization
September 11 to November 10, 2000                                                         Washington D.C.



The Challenge


            Ten years ago there was great and justified euphoria as, in one dramatic semester, the oppressive, over centralized regimes of Eastern Europe were swept away. This promised, and indeed reflected, a new birth of human freedom.

At first, in the liberal manner, this was thought to require only new constitutions in order to establish formal, uniform and universal borders to frame the new exercise of freedom. While necessary, these did not take up the reality of freedom itself.

            Soon the existential character of freedom began to emerge. No longer captive to earlier ideologies, attention began to focus not only externally on the objects between which one chooses, but internally on the personal exercise of choice as the responsibility one exercises in shaping one’s life. This was a matter, not only of isolated decisions, but of consistent self-affirmation in patterns of values and virtues by which one defines one’s personal identity.

            Moreover, seen not only individually, but socially, this personal configuration defines not only the individual, but the society made up of interrelated persons. This constitutes a culture in the sense of the human environment in which young persons can develop and be formed or "cultivated." Finally, passed on (or tradita) and shaped over time, it constitutes a cultural tradition as the cumulative freedom of a people.

            Cultural identity is then the freedom of a people writ large; it is the purchase families have on their ability to raise their children in a humane manner as personally reputable and socially responsible. More precious than life itself, it is both the fruit of the responsible exercise freedom and the access thereto for the future — it has ever been so.

            Today, the truly human challenge and opportunity is defined and determined in terms of a new experience of such freedom. The opportunity is to break beyond the conception of life imposed by modern, economic ideologies in which man is either a lonely warrior preying for profit, or a small part enslaved to a vast machine grinding out the spoils of class conflict. Beyond this, it is now appreciated that values are important, that these are shaped by and for a social life, and that they can render this harmonious inasmuch as they are conducive to the material and spiritual realization of the people.

            The present opportunity is the ability to appreciate that the horizons of this life are not only my own, but extend to other cultural traditions with other identities; that together we can enrich not only our own lives, but those of our whole Society; and that this can constitute a new level of human comity. The opportunity for this is still further expanded as people cross borders to enhance the cultural diversity of their new communities. Finally, as informational tools proliferate and intensify we live increasingly not only locally, but with peoples everywhere and their multiple ways of realizing human life.

            In principle this should constitute a great leap forward in the life of humankind, enabling us to improve the natural environment, to order economic competition, and to achieve political cooperation and peace.

            In practice, however, these opportunities are proving to be conditioned upon the resolution of the multiple challenges they entail. For there are many and terrifying signs of human closure from others, and even of terrifying aggression against them. Domestically, resources of openness and concern for the disadvantaged, cultural minorities or immigrants from other civilizations seem to be dwindling. Instead, one finds a range of rejection. These begin with directing minority families of their language and the access this provides to their cultural values, so that they are molded according to the majority. This extends to more evident hardness of heart and social rejection, which in times and places degenerates into violent attacks and even genocide.

            Internationally, people look forward to the promise of a global unity to enable all to share in an ever greater cumulative prosperity. But increasingly this is being found by the less prosperous to be a context not only of economic exploitation and cultural impoverishment. Colonialism is perceived as being supplanted by an even more oppressive economic and cultural imperialism which condemns peoples to a future of poverty and its accompanying social unrest. Indeed, this reaches even to the destruction of the cultural traditions which are a people’s proper hold on a sense of human decency. Like distant thunder, the threat of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations rolls closer and looms more menacingly.

            In this situation we are challenged to respond to the new opportunities for the cultural emergence of peoples by which their identity can be physically assured and aesthetically enhanced, personally and socially, domestically and globally. We are challenged to enable this sense of cultural identity to prosper relationally in a multi-cultural context so that diversity and pluralism become strengths rather than weaknesses, and an endowment of cooperation rather than an incitement to conflict. Finally, we are challenged to enable all persons and peoples to benefit and grow in the new global context so that mega-conflicts can be avoided and a harvest of human progress enabled.

            The search then is for a future in which:


            (a) cultural identities are appreciated not as arbitrary or superficial, but as the essence of human freedom, its formation and its exercise;

            (b) cultural pluralism is not a zero sum struggle in which everyone and everything must be compromised, but a relational context in which each can be inspired by all to go more deeply into his or her own culture and draw out creatively new resources for new times; and

            (c) globalization at the cultural level is a force not to suppress, but to open and enrich the ability of all peoples to cooperate in convergent pilgrimages — each along its own path and according to its own culture — but all directed towards the common human fulfillment in a process that ascends beyond limited horizons to transcendent promise.


The Response


            Such a search cannot be carried out by one person, but some progress might be made by a multidisciplinary and multicultural team uniting the broad resources of the human community.

            For this work there are significant and promising resources. The humanities (history and literature) can uncover the values of the various cultures. The social sciences (psychology, sociology and economics) can contribute understanding of the structures of the world in which we live. Above all, it will be necessary to think together philosophically in order to understand the way in which faith inspires reason and reason articulates faith that human freedom is open rather than closed, and self-assertion consists in reaching out to others in the solidarity and subsidiarity in which civil society consists.

            For this a seminar is projected with the following characteristics:

  • Size: restricted to under 20 scholars, in order to facilitate intensive interchange around a single table;

  • Interdisciplinary: in order to draw upon the contemporary capabilities of the various humanities and sciences and to penetrate deeply into the philosophical roots and religious meaning of cultures;

  • Inter-cultural: to benefit from the experiences and commitments of the various ethnic communities from all parts of the world, to discover their particular problems in our day, and especially to envisage new and creative responses;

  • Focused: a single integrating theme, in order to encourage a convergence of insights; Duration: 10 weeks, in order to allow the issues to mature, the participants to establish a growing degree of mutual comprehension, and new insight to emerge;

  • Intensive: analyzing in detail the papers planned in common and written by each of the participants during the seminar; and

  • Publication: the resulting volumes, consisting of chapters written by the individual seminar participants, intensively discussed in the seminar and then redrafted, will reflect concretely the work of the seminar and share it with those working in the various cultural communities in facing the problems of contemporary life.

The Organization

  • Sponsor: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, and The Catholic University of America.

  • Participants in each seminar: 10 scholars from the various continents, with an equal number of professors from various disciplines in the universities and institutes of the Washington area. The visiting scholars from other countries will be welcome to join in seminars and courses at CUA, where they will be designated Visiting Research Professors. They will have the use of the research facilities of the Library of Congress and of the Universities and Institutes of the Washington area. Thus, the period of the seminar should constitute effectively a hard working mini-sabbatical.

  • Schedule: The seminar will meet on Tuesdays 10.00 a.m. - 12.00 noon for discussion by the visiting scholars of key contemporary texts related to the evolution of the theme of the seminar; and on Fridays, 3.00-5.00 p.m. for presentation by the participants of the drafts of their chapters as a basis for intensive critical and exploratory discussion by the group.

  • How to Apply: By a letter of application before May 31st, together with a curriculum vitae and bibliography, providing details of the importance of the seminar to the applicants overall work and the achievement of his or her specific goals.





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