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Models of Thinking about Reality:
Individual, Communitarian, Global, Virtual, and Religious

September 5 to November 9, 2001                                                               Washington D.C.



The Challenge


            As we venture into the new millennium we become aware of the heritage we carry with us. Horizontally, this includes the great human accomplishments of the past in organizing nature and facilitating human life, from prenatal care to hospices. Vertically, it includes also the deeper levels of the great civilizations which shape people’s lives and of the religious traditions which undergird these.

            But we bring with us as well various trade-offs, for progress has been made by abstractions which focus attention on some things in ways that omit others. In this light the last four centuries appear to have been marked by a secularizing humanism which cut humanity loose from its moorings in being and set it upon an ultimately frustrating quest for happiness as a purely human construct. This was expressed classically by the figure of Prometheus in ancient myth and by Milton’s aptly entitled "Paradise Lost". Not incidentally we speak now of "post-modern," for "modern" has come to stand for an increasingly discredited individualism.

            This now returns to haunt us and to call insistently not so much for more abstract analysis, but especially for synthesizing, integrating and creative envisioning of what life can become in the millennium ahead. For this there begin to emerge new models of thinking about the future in terms of the social character of life. This constitutes a second, communitarian, model of thought reflected in the new interest in civil society. It recognizes the need to supplement the highly centralized, top-down manner of the past by a bottom-up process of discovery and responsibility. As this cannot be realized by a chaotically atomized society, our attention turns to the natural human communities of family and neighborhood. Each has its unique culture, understood etymologically as ways of "cultivating the human person," and points to the transcendent source and goal of existence in which individuals are related one to another.

            A third model of thinking, global in character, is now inescapably upon us. As with the term "development" this first was taken in a merely economic sense, for that is the most tangible. But it now manifests itself to be also political and, beneath that, cultural. We live today with a sense of other peoples and of their distinct approaches to the problem of life; correspondingly, we are able to see more deeply into ourselves and our identities, our hopes and aspiration.

            Finally, all this points not only to the individualist and communitarian traditions from the past and to the present global dimensions of life, but to yet further ways of thinking and being. From one perspective this appears as virtual reality projected by the human imagination, especially when enhanced by computer technology. Such human ingenuity, however, should be seen not as limited to the physical world, but rather as sculpting meaning and values from the unlimited sense of Truth and Goodness which Plato sees as the bearings of our minds and hearts. The exciting prospect is that we may now be able to begin to think with images hitherto unimaginable, to live thereby forms of communion hitherto unexplored, and thus to soar in modes of transcendence hitherto earthbound.

            Moreover, if the field be reversed and we think not from our world to Plato’s passive ideals, but from the living reality of divine Truth and Love Itself, then the virtual realm is above all the work of the Spirit. In the manner suggested by Heidegger, it is the Spirit that holds the initiative. This enables us to seek afresh and with new hope how individuals and communities can be brought into hitherto unsuspected syntheses which are not only global but humane, and how we can pursue the task of resolving global tensions in new dimensions of conscious life.

            Certainly, it is too early to foreclose on the nature of our destiny, for that would suppress the human adventure indisociable from a creative life. In entering upon the journey into the third millennium we need rather to test out our models of thinking and of reality, especially of our abilities to chart our course and to develop a map that open virtual realms to be explored in a history for which we are responsible.

            The challenge of the present seminar will be to inventory and connect our capabilities for modeling our lives as individuals and members of communities, local and global, concrete and virtual.

The Response


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

            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 cultural 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 and the participants to establish the growing degree of mutual comprehension, from which new insight can emerge;

·Intensive: analyzing in detail 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 (RVP) and The Center for Studies of Culture and Values (CSCV) at The Catholic University of America (CUA).  

 Participants in each seminar: 10 philosophers from the various continents, with an equal number of professors from various disciplines in the universities and institutes in 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. The period of the seminar should constitute effectively a hard-working mini-sabbatical.

Schedule: The seminar will meet on Tuesdays 10.00am – 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 Thursdays, 3:00-5:00 p.m.: presentations by the participants of the drafts of their chapters as a basis for intensive critical and exploratory discussion by the group.

Costs: Successful applicants will be granted an RVP Research Fellowship which covers all fees for the seminar itself and in many cases room and board. Participants will be responsible for travel expenses.

How to Apply: Send a letter of application before May 31st, together with a curriculum vitae and bibliography, providing details of the importance of the seminar to your overall work and the achievement of specific goals.




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