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Symbols in Cultures and Identities

in a Time of Global Interaction 

 September 15-November 10, 2005                                           Washington, D.C.






          Due to national transitions, global communication and global interaction, peoples, nations and local communities now feel their cultural identity to be threatened and at risk.  It is broadly and inevitably a time of cultural transition; for some it is even one of multicultural belonging. Lest identity and values be lost rather than opened to interaction and enriched, it is important to take note of what is happening to cultures, and to understand more deeply their components.

          Symbolic expression is key to the specifically human, to personal identity, and to particular cultural identities. Cultures may be considered as networks of signification and figure central geopolitical. They hold the keys to the way people interpret and react to the world around them; they are central in most definitions of civilizations, which in turn are founded on the great religions.

          This seminar proposes to study the role of the symbolic in establishing cultural identities and values, their ideological manipulation, and their key role in negotiating transitions. This includes ethnic and national symbols, rites, expressions of the aesthetic, folk expressions, the prevailing forms of communication and religious symbolism.

          Methods and instruments of study include the history of symbolic forms in a culture,  semiotic and semantic analysis, philosophies of the symbolic, ritual studies, cultural criticism and social criticism. All focus on image and symbol, and on the process of symbolization. Studies of communication and its forms, the relation between ideological regimes and the arts, and studies on religious symbolism in both its official and its popular forms must also be taken into account.

          In brief, in order to negotiate the changes deep within us and the complex interactions between the cultures in these newly global times, we need to bring to bear all available scholarly means to understand the role of the symbolic in the development, transformation and interchange of cultures. This will be the goal of the present investigation.




          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;

          - Inter-disciplinary: 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, 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.




          - Sponsor: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP), and The Center for the Study of Culture and Values  (CSCV) of the Catholic University of America (CUA).

          - Participants in each seminar: 10 philosophers from the various continents, with additional 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 9.00 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 Thursdays, 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.

          - Costs: Successful applicants will be granted an RVP Research Fellowship which covers all fees for the seminar itself including simple room and board, but not travel and health insurance.

          - How to apply: By a letter of application before March 30, 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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