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           The Sacred and the Secular:

Complementary and/or Conflictual (II)

September 28 – October 30, 2009                                                             Washington, D.C.



Seminar Structure





          The Fall 2008 RVP seminar, The Secular and The Sacred: Complementary or Conflictual (I) led to a number of important conclusions, which in turn call for further exploration in this 2009 seminar.

          Two main challenges appeared for a new paradigm of unity in diversity for global times. The first danger lies on the secular side and is found in the present paradigm of a world of radically single individuals and peoples competing or even conflicting in terms of their separate self-interests. The second danger lies on the side of the religious and cultural heritages of the world when conceived exclusively as conflicting among themselves and to the secular.

          The 2008 seminar noted that in recent times key thinkers have begun to find that this calls for a renewed participation of cultural and religious voices in public debate and planning. For example, Jürgen Habermas notes the importance of the substantive and experienced truth content of such voices on e.g., human dignity and solidarity. As resources for the creation of meaning and identity, these hold keys to contemporary social development. A deeper complementary and enriching cooperation between secular and religious citizens may now to be newly possible, and indeed urgently needed.

          But as H.-G. Gadamer noted, it is not possible to imagine a kind of “blank tablet” as a point of departure in the Lockean or Cartesian sense. Rather, all are born into their own culture and language which provide a basic world view and a rich resource of fundamental values. In our global times these civilizations now meet one another in ways that but a few years ago were unimaginable. In turn, they encounter a secular age with its own proper and appropriate focus upon human fulfillment. Thus, the challenge of developing a new paradigm for philosophizing that enables the sacred and the secular to be lived fully, creatively and cooperatively so as to build a viable global whole.




          The 2009 seminar will build upon the above as well as on the Islamic seminar on “Living Faithfully in Changing Times”. Special attention will be devoted to appreciating both the unique differences and the relatedness of the world’s religious cultures, their relation to the achievement of secular goals, and vice versa the positive contribution of secular concerns for living religion fully in this world. The search is for a paradigm that enables mutual understanding and communication in which the many peoples and cultures, both sacred and secular, can be positively complementary.

          This will require attention to the triple threat that arises from conceiving the world’s religious and secular cultures in abstract and exclusive ways: (a) isolating cultural and religious heritages from human experience and thus rendering them irrelevant to life in our times; (b) understanding the secular exclusively in ways that exclude the unique creativity and contribution of each culture to public discussion of the common good, and (c) seeing both the sacred and the secular as essentially contrasting, by implication conflictual, and hence as dangers to the common good.

          To respond to this threefold threat the Fall 2009 seminar will seek to open the way for a lived existential sharing of the many cultures, religious and secular. It will explore how the world’s great cultures and religions, lived fully and each in their unique manner, can develop resources of respect for other individuals, peoples and cultures. The search will be for a mutual complementarity and enrichment of the sacred and secular traditions.

          To do this, it will be concerned with philosophical undergirdings of the cooperation of faith and reason in the search for the human dignity of each person and hence for the respect due to their societies, cultures and civilizations, as well as to nature. Additionally, it will take up the challenge of Habermas to find ways in which this can be brought to bear on public discussions of the common good, and do this in such wise that secular and religious persons might find areas of deep cooperation. In this it will seek to respect the genuine concerns of secular thought and bring to the table meaning rooted in cultural and religions heritages that deepens, enriches and extends its contributions and concerns.


Seminar 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; 

          Intercultural: to benefit from the experiences and commitments of the various cultural communities from all parts of the world, to discover the particular problems of living together in our day, and especially to envisage new and creative responses; 

          Focused: a single integrating theme, in order to encourage a convergence of research and insights; 

          Duration: 5 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 a set of related readings as well as the papers planned in common and completed by each of the participants; and 

         Publication: the resulting volume(s), consisting of substantive studies drafted during the seminar by the individual seminar participants and intensively discussed by all will reflect  the work of the seminar and share it with those thinking deeply on the problems of contemporary life in their various cultural communities.


Application for Participation


        Applications for participation in this seminar should be sent by email by Feb. 30, 2009, to cua-cscv@cua.eduand include:


(1) a vita describing one’s education, professional positions and activities,

(2) a list of the applicants’ publications,

(3) a letter stating your interest and involvement in this theme and the relation of participation in this seminar to your past and future work in philosophy and related studies, and

(4) an abstract of a study(s) you might present as an integral part of the seminar.










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