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Responsibility Personal and Social: Foundations for Life in a Global Age

           August 22-September 24, 2011                                                             Washington, D.C.



The Challenge

         Modernity has been marked by a strong sense of individuals in competition, whether persons or nations; its economic, political and legal institutions have been constructed on this basis. This brought great new rational capabilities for the control and manipulation of the objects of our material world and made possible new and at times surprising ways for the affirmation of human freedom. Breaking through the natural barriers that for so long kept peoples in isolation from one another, it now engaged the rich philosophical and cultural heritages of the East with those of Ancient Greece and Rome, and vice versa. The result is a time of great challenge and great possibility.

            Because what is in question is the distinctive character of contemporary civilization, any response must take into account the plurality associated with the human condition. It must consider what counts as knowledge in order to assure that the mind is adequately open to the issues of ethical concern and to perceive the new insights emerging from the cultural interchange of humanity.

It must also examine the proper constitution of human persons and recognize their creative imagination for cooperation towards achieving a “better world”. This in turn must be viewed not only in human terms but also in terms of a more balanced and respectful interaction with physical nature. In other words, any response to the challenges presented by human civilization at the present stage must take into account all that is relevant to a more authentic determination of human action and indeed of being or reality as such in order to integrate the new insights already available and to develop those required for a constructive response to the present global crisis.



Global pressures now generate a renewed sense of the urgency to efforts to overcome the excesses of the present paradigm based on individualism, and to begin thinking  in more wholistic terms on a global scale. This requires the cultivation of new capabilities to break beyond self-interest and incorporate thinking in relational terms. The goal, therefore, is to foster an understanding of being  human for which the condition of being a member of society — as family, community, and indeed the global whole — is essential. In other words, the issue here is the realization of an wholistic sense of human existence and thereby promoting mutual understanding and a constructive peace among human beings, cultures and nations, religions and civilizations. In the words of Emmanuel Levinas, this is a humanism of the other, radically open to neighbor and willing to assume radical openness to the transcendent.

            The seminar will explore possibilities for the renewal of the ethical life in our global age, emphasizing  two fundamental concepts, namely, responsibility and justice. This will enable both philosophical articulation and practical implementation of an ethical order that in the circumstances of our lebenswelt  underscores the value of life and action in ways that are ever more responsible and in accord with justice.

            In order to facilitate this conversation among the participants and to stimulate the personal reflection of each one of its members, the seminar will be structured in four distinct moments:  

            1. The principles of responsibility (with Max Weber and Hans Jonas);

            2. The nature of responsibility (with Emmanuel Levinas);

            3. The transition from responsibility to justice (with Paul Ricoeur); and

            4. The relevance of the cultural contributions from Asian, African and Latin-American thought, as well as the perspectives derived from world religions.


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 April 1, 2011, to cua-rvp@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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