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Religion: Key to Understanding Violence and Promoting Peace in Global Times

August 18-September 19, 2014                                                                                               Washington, D.C.



Seminar Structure




It is both the glory and the conundrum of persons that they can achieve their proper fullness only by transcending or going beyond their humanity. They are destined to a life they can neither fully comprehend or precisely control. The result is a need for philosophy, notably metaphysics, in order to help guide one's steps.


On the one hand, it is necessary to avoid the idolatry of an egoism that absolutizes oneself and instrumentalizes the other to the destruction of both. On the other hand, one is drawn ever forward and upward to realize the human potential of a spirit incarnate in matter, yet which knows no bounds.


The key to both is the transcendence unique to humans which both constitutes and challenges their glory. Poorly conceived this can base attacks on others and religious wars. Yet correctly applied it constitutes the call for self-sacrifice for others and the appeal of peace.


Two currents are especially relevant here. One relates to the Nazi experience and the holocaust. After World War II this generated a focused attack, especially among French philosophers, against any sense of 'absolute' and hence of 'transcendence'. This reduced all to the relative, the reductively human and the secular. This is an essential ingredient of the post moderns and of contemporary philosophy.


The other current is the spectacle of the contemporary turmoil across the various regions of the globe. This tends to reinforce the first current leading to the sense that any sense of transcendence is destructive of life in these times. Here one is led to the central issue of culture and its phases: a sense of transcendence was needed in an earliest rural phase of life; it was supplanted by the rule of law immanent to human society in its modern urban configuration. What then of the present situation where the media so individualizes the context of meaning that it supplants the social forces of religious institutions on the religious/transcendent level, as well as of social structures such as labor unions and political parties on the properly human level.


An implication of this for the seminar theme is that the Middle East chaos where a vivid sense of transcendence meets the influences of modern times is not essentially different from the problems experienced in the West, e.g., 

(1) the seekers who are leaving old institutions in search of new ways of living more meaningful and fulfilling lives;

(2) the institutional sources such as universities, academies and religious communities generally called upon to guide and inspire this effort;

(3) the ethics for responding to the challenges of life; and

(4) the inter-relation of the plural form of spirituality which have become newly possible across the world in these global times.  


Each of these issues can be treated in their specifics by the separate sciences appropriate to their particular order. Yet the way they all share parallel disfunction at relatively the same time suggests the need for developing new philosophical insight in order to protect and promote the underlying reality of transcendence and of the absolute without which none of these particular issues and fields can be adequately understood and lived.


This is the basic insight of Piaget in psychology, of Heidegger in metaphysics and of Gadamer in hermeneutics, namely, that the earliest insights are the most basic and most rich and that they are not substituted by later insights but remain as the essential substrata of all that follows. Thereby they serve as the continual corrective of the human tendencies to simplify and universalize which leads to the extremism of ideologies.


Hence, the issue of transcendence for global times and as related to the varying phenomena and degrees of violence. There include the killing in the tribal and post tribal societies of the Middle East, the marginalization and prejudice with regard to the underclass in modern urban societies, and the extremism and resulting paralysis and disorganization of the public institutions of today's media society.


Whether religion is essentially the cause of peace and/or of violence is the main burden of  this seminar. Through human history religion has been the essential key to the salvation of humanity, yet if poorly done or not attended to in a secular age leads to human stagnation and indeed to violence.


Application for Participation


Applications for participation in this seminar should be sent by email by March 1, 2014, to cua-rvp@cua.edu. Participants cover their own travel costs; the RVP provides simple room and board during the seminar. The seminar will be held at the RVP Seminar Room: Gibbons Hall B-12, 620 Michigan Avenue, North East, Washington, D.C., 20064.


 Please enclose:

(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 its relation 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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