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Communication Across Cultures:

The Hermeneutics Of Culture In A Global Age  

September 4 to November 6, 2003                                                                Washington D.C.





            It is true that the process of communications across cultures has had a long history. From the days of Abraham, if not of “Lucy”, peoples have immigrated, traded, and fought. Special people like Alexander and Magellan, Genghis Khan and Columbus have broken through frontiers either in war or in peace to engage others.

            Today, however, we meet not only those who live on the other side of a border, for in many ways there are no borders and we are engaged with and by everyone at all times. Thus, whereas a decade ago many worried about whether there was an African philosophy distinct from that of Europe, now the concern is not whether such a philosophy exists, but how it engages the world reality which continually shapes and directs all. The answer is not obvious.

            At the beginning of modern times, in order to clear the way for the abstractive and universalising efforts of science, consideration of local identities and cultural interchange were pushed to one side, and in time came even to be vilified as “the irrational”. In the last decades this attitude, in its turn, has come to be seen as blind and insensitive to the wellsprings of the human project.

            Philosophical work has been done to reopen those wellsprings, adding subjectivity to objectivity – the soul, as it were, to the body. Thus enlivened, people began to listen with new sensitivity to their children and their neighbours, finding in human persons unique richness hitherto unsounded. The philosophical methodology for this project was hermeneutics, much advanced by late H.G. Gadamer on a phenomenological basis. His notion of the fusion of horizons responded well to this new opportunity to come to know more deeply another person or people.

            Now, however, the challenge – and the potential reward – is vastly multiplied. It is no longer merely that of meeting and interpreting what the person next door or in ancient times is trying to say to me. Rather, it is becoming aware of how all of life has been plunged into a newly integrated world reality that includes all peoples all the time. This threatens all, yet holds promise of vast human enrichment limited only by, and to, the humane. It means also that one’s creative actions and even one’s hopes can build either an ultimate conflict of all against all, or new harmonies in which bodies as well as minds can have life and have it more fully. For this even the relatively new hermeneutic methods of mutual interpretation and understanding themselves must be revised and expanded in order to respond to life in this age already marked as global.


The Response  


          Such an effort 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, how human freedom is open rather than closed, how 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 truly global.

To do so 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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