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Globalization and Identity

September 5 to November 7, 2002                                    Washington D.C.



The Challenge


          Upon entering this millennium, humanity has soon found a truly new phase of its existence. In the past, life was lived as small local communities, in tribes and villages; at times these were stitched together by mega empires, which nevertheless were constituted of local and largely self-enclosed peoples. In the last century there arose the conception of the autonomous nation state constituted of an homogeneous people with sovereign rule. There were difficulties for minorities within and there were conflicts across borders, but it was clear who and where were the powers, both great and small.

          Today we move beyond this divided world as the walls between nations and blocks of nations are torn down, as the media create and share experiences, and as a newly global horizon opens before us.

          In these circumstances a number of questions arise:

  • first, how to think about oneself in order to appreciate from within the realities of one's creative freedom and responsibility;

  • second, how over time these have constituted cultural identities as ways of living with others in community;

  • third, how to relate globally to all humankind in a way that respects, promotes, and engages the distinctive reality of its many cultures;

          These dimensions of cultural identity and globalization now emerge as fundamental to the challenge we face. Philosophically, it might be said that it is an issue both of ways of thinking and of being as we enter upon the third millennium.


          Ways of Thinking: Earlier, life seemed rather more patent and simple. Being was taken to be there before us in an objective manner and our mind simply corresponded thereto. Now we become more aware of the significance and nature of human intentionality, of its ability to be diversely sensitive and insensitive to others, and of the way it responds variously thereto. Our mind can be selective in its work and operate under multiple impulses, from defense against others whom we cannot dominate to vain hopes for utopian social orders which can never be. As a result, we find ourselves not only in a world with which we must cope, but in the shaping of which we are at once both responsible and extensively challenged. In this world without partitions we are no longer protected by old divisions. Instead, in order to cope it is necessary to develop new modes of thinking in order to take account of the whole in which even our identity is extensively a matter of relation to others.

          Moreover, as we venture into the new millennium we become more aware of the cultural 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, however, this is more problematic, for it includes also the deeper levels of the great civilizations by which people shape their lives and the religious traditions which undergird them. Yet, for the last four centuries modernity has been marked by an exclusive focus upon the human which has cut it loose from its metaphysical and religious moorings in being and set it upon an ultimately frustrating quest for happiness as a purely artificial 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 the "post-modern" -- "modern" having come to stand for an increasingly questioned individualism and rationalism.

          This calls insistently not so much for more abstract analysis, but especially for synthesis which can integrate and creatively relate the many cultural identities. It recognizes the need then to supplement the highly centralized, top-down manner of the past, whether in reasoning or in action, by a bottom-up process of community discovery and responsible self formation. As this cannot be realized by a chaotically atomized humanity, attention turns to the natural human communities of family and neighborhood, and even further to the global relations between the cultural identities according to which they live. These constitute, in the expression of S. Huntington, civilizations as the largest "we."


          Ways of Being: This is not only a way of thinking, however; globalization is the contemporary mode of being which for a living being is 'to live.' As with the term 'development,' globalization first was taken in a merely economic sense, for that is what is 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 look more deeply into ourselves, our hopes and aspirations, the terms in which we direct our commitments and striving. Hence, our attention and efforts are directed now to the unique cultural identities of peoples, understood etymologically as their way of cultivating the human person.

          This deepening ability of human consciousness makes it newly possible and natural to be aware of the ways in which our freedom, and especially that of our ancestors, has responded to the challenges and opportunities of life. This has meant not only a specific sequence of historical actions, but as well and perhaps more determinatively a process of selecting and prioritizing (or valuing) certain modes of responding, e.g., courage, patience, or love. The development of a corresponding pattern of capabilities, called virtues, constitutes the character or even the identity of a people. This is their culture -- the way in which they cultivate or shape the growth of their offspring and enable them, in turn, to respond to the challenges of life.

          At bottom this constitutes the way in which peoples express and articulate their ultimate concern for life and being; it is their commitment to life itself both temporal and eternal. This is also the religious commitment, based as it is upon Absolute Being. Nothing could be more pervasive and meaning giving, more complete or definitive.

          In the past these commitments by peoples who were widely separated geographically naturally differed in mode. Seen in themselves as both definitive and diverse, they appeared to be mutually exclusive and conflictual, leading to religious conflict.

          Now, as peoples increasingly communicate with one another, it is not only possible but urgently necessary to see how the multiple cultures and their religious bases share deep common concerns. Beyond a mere tolerance, they are called upon to work in a complementary manner to ground cooperation between the peoples of the world.

          It is necessary then to go beyond economic and political concerns, to investigate the nature of cultural identities and civilizations, to uncover the character and role of their religious roots, and to work out how these can be positively related and complementary one to another. This is the search to overcome mutual fear and antipathy, and to develop a cooperative global world. 

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 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: 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 will be welcome to join in the work of CUA. 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 9.00am - 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, 2:00-5:00 p.m. for presentations 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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