Archive Last update July, 27 2007
> Post-conference papers, squibs, comments, etc.
1. Between demonized minorities and glorified scapegoats: the response to growing intolerance
This workshop builds on the keynote speech by Ian Buruma and the panel discussion of the opening session. We invite participants from different countries and different institutional backgrounds to reflect on the responses of government (local and national), educational institutions, the private sector, civil society organizations (churches, political parties, immigrants organizations, the minority-rights action groups, the media, etc.) in their country, to the growing intolerance. International comparison is encouraged.
Speakers plenary session
Henri Beunders, Fortuyn, Van Gogh, Hirsi Ali: The exorcism of an Unholy Trinity; Trevor Cribben Merrill (USA), The Definitions of Tolerance
2. Tolerance and vulnerability in sustaining complex systems
In this postmodern or ultramodern age of liquid identities, slippery principles, fluctuating markets and dissolving borders, many individuals and entire societies feel a dizzying sense of precariousness and vulnerability which may express itself in defensive reactions liable to place peaceful coexistence at risk. Different disciplines have elaborated models of the conditions under which systems maintain their identities in the face of change and internal or external threats.
Discrimination between self and non-self
Living organisms studied by biologists have various strategies to deal with influences that endanger their survival as systems. They may take defensive actions to fight off or expel the hostile agents, or they may find ways to incorporate the latter within the system's internal dynamics so as to develop tolerance or immunity. Immunologists have studied the problem of self-definition and what they call "discrimination between self and non-self." Biological metaphors can be suggestive or deceptive. Is it possible to safeguard identity without discriminating, building walls and policing borders? How can self-definition be maintained if tolerance of diversity is a part of self-definition?
In the psychological treatment of trauma we find a similar opposition between defensive exclusion and immunising incorporation. In a first move the traumatised person bars the disturbing memories from his consciousness. When the trauma is serious, the trauma will sooner or later manifest itself in unguarded moments and in dreams. Trauma treatment often entails interventions that intentionally allow the memories to re-enter consciousness to enable the patient to deal with them as a part of his experience. Psycho-analytic therapy for a wider range of disturbances proposes a similar route to wholeness.
Vulnerable social order
In social anthropology Gregory Bateson developed a model in which a potentially destructive escalation of interactions between two actors is kept in check by interactions in which the same actors are complementary to one another. The reproduction of an inherently vulnerable social order depends on a delicate balance of forces.The Batesonian distinction foreshadows the opposition between mimetic antagonism and cultural difference. Catastrophe theory has developed more sophisticated methods of modelling tolerance levels of different types of systems.
Plenary session: Hans Weigand (The Netherlands), Complex mimetic systems; David Chavalarias, Imitation, Institutions and Sustainability of Social Dynamics
Background/Discussion: Agnès d'Artigues and Thierry Vignolo, "Why Global Integration May Lead to Terrorism: An Evolutionary Theory of Mimetic Rivalry", Economics Bulletin 6: 11 (2003): 1-8.
3. Vulnerability and tolerance in the theological traditions
who want to contribute to this theme are asked to refer to one of more of the
(a) Sacrifice, identity and coping with violence
different religions and world views, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam,
humanism, deal with notions of vulnerability, immunity and tolerance? How may we
understand violence in Scripture and in the theological tradition with its
notions such as the last judgement, the classical doctrine of reconciliation by
the blood of Christ, the focus in the Roman Catholic Church on the Eucharist as some kind of
a sacrifice while reducing and concealing the notion of the Eucharist as a meal
as much as possible? How do Christians reconcile the values of vulnerability and
acceptance of suffering with their practice in which the sermon on the mount or
the cross do not seem to play an important part, verbal violence often abounds
and physical violence is often tolerated? How do they look at feminist movements?
What is sacred to them? Do Christians have anything that is sacred? What kind of
identity are they to strive after: a strong and clearly defined one or rather a
vulnerable, weak one (Gianni
Vattimo), an identity based on their (often violent)
past or rather on being open to the future? How can religious organisations cope
with their past and present violence?
(b) Does religion contribute to the cohesion of society?
In the Netherlands
eligion was put on the
agenda of public debate again because the use of violence was justified in religious
in the past religious organisations were able to take part in public debate
because of their commitment to peace and their rejection of placing cruise
missiles in this country. Should religious organisations support the wider
mandate for law-enforcement or call for accepting more vulnerability or do they
have more alternatives to offer in the public debate?
(c) Dilemmas in the concept of tolerance
is often seen as a privilege of those
whose position is sufficiently safe and comfortable to bear what deviates from
what they perceive to be the common norm. By being tolerant they often reinforce
the boundaries between their social status and the status of minorities. Those
minorities do not tolerate the majority. Should new minorities be asked to
integrate into society or only to participate in society?
Is the notion tolerance to be replaced by the notion hospitality?
Should one be tolerant to individuals and groups that are intolerant? In the
prophetic tradition God sides with the lowly. In this regard the God of the
prophets is quite intolerant. How do we deal with these dilemmas?
(d) Are all truths equal in postmodern culture?
What is religious truth in a postmodern society? Our postmodern culture rejects the glorification of violence, looks unfavourably at violence, considers human rights as sacred, but does not offer conclusive arguments for this position. Are there absolute truths (Pope Benedict XVI) or is truth always relative? Is only God absolute and are religious truths relative? Do absolute truths, convictions and principles lead to violence, the sacrifice of human beings, intolerance? Is it an evil to love God, ideals, fatherland, Church, or oneself more than ones neighbour?
Plenary session: Erik Borgman (Radboud University Nijmegen, Heyendaal Institute), The Weak Presence of Grace. A Theological Plea for the Return to the Ambivalences of Modernity
Background/Discussion: - Paul Cliteur, "The Postmodern Interpretation of Religious Terrorism",
Febr. 6, 2007. - Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
by 38 Leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders, Islamica Magazine,
Oct 12 2006. - Timothy Garton Ash, "Islam in Europe", NY Review of
Books, October 5, 2006. - Lee Harris, "Socrates or Muhammad? Joseph Ratzinger on the destiny of reason",
Weekly Standard, October 2, 2006. - René Girard, "Are
the gospels mythical?". - Erik
Borgman, 'Responsibly Performing Vulnerability: Salman Rushdie's Fury and
4. Vulnerability and progress of knowledge: ethics and epistemics
Analysing the origins of culture, language and sign systems, René Girard sees representational mimesis as the prime tool of cognition. Western thought values clear definition of succinct ideas, as objects of this learning. But every definition is sacrificial in that it cuts notions out from the flux of being.
Girard sees this happening via a triangular desire that calls for constant sacrificial appeasements. Concepts, like sacrificial victims, are objects of adoration. But both hinge on a bad faith, an underlying lie. While religions try to camouflage this lie, science strives for ever more concise definitions, based on the excluded third. But the instruments used in this pursuit of truth, despite the various critical approaches developed through the ages, tend to ignore a basic form of vulnerability.
The drive for representational clarity (and power!) in Western thinking obfuscates the first aspect of mimesis, namely the quest to undo ones breach with the flux of being, the aesthetic longing not so much for distinctions as for the coincidentia oppositorum (Cusanus). If indeed appropriative mimesis aims at undoing a primal fissure, one may ask if all definitions do not deny the pain of birth and its ensuing vulnerability.
A guide to being?
Relativism and tolerant pluralism do attempt to remedy its lie, but fail by confirming the violent fissure. Girard's rejection of relativism seems to call for another episteme that recognises this vulnerability preceding the primal mimesis, by welcoming the infinity that speaks through the others face (Lévinas) as a guide to being. If so, a mortal terror of not knowing is not only to be accepted, but treasured as basic part of our epistemology. Could a responsive susceptibility save our knowing from an enslaving vulnerability of imitation and from a resentful tolerance of rivalry?
Plenary session: Joachim Duyndam (University of Humanistics, Utrecht), Girard and Levinas, Cain and Abel, Mimesis and the Face
5. Reconciliation as the conversion of negative into positive reciprocity
Towards peaceful relations
Reciprocity is mimetic: each party mirrors the other's actions, whether hurtful or helpful. Just as hostility feeds on negative reciprocity, positive reciprocity fosters peaceful relations. The challenge is to shift from one to the other. Once a spiral of revenge is underway, it is hard to reverse course without making oneself vulnerable.
Conflict resolution: overcoming obstacles
A peace overture risks being seen as a sign of weakness by the enemy, while peace advocates lay themselves open to accusations of treason from their own side. How can these obstacles be overcome? Do practical methods exist to facilitate the leap from violent to peaceful reciprocity? What can the mimetic theory contribute to lessons about conflict resolution drawn from anthropology, history, political science, psychotherapy or other disciplines?
Plenary session: Mark Anspach (USA), [ ], Roberto Farneti (Italy), On Discord, Justice, and What There Is. A Girardian Perspective on Conflict Resolution
Background/Discussion: "Breakthrough in Peace Talks in Northern Uganda", August 26, 2006. - Roel Kaptein, On the way of freedom. With the cooperation of Duncan Morrow. Introduction by René Girard (The Columba Press, 1993, Nederlandse vertaling).- [ ]
6. Vulnerable heroes in the arts
Georg Lukacs defined the novel as the literary genre that staged a central character in search of true values in a world where such values are no longer self-evident. Through the quest of the protagonist the novel gradually reveals the untruth of the various projects - the pursuit of love, prestige, power, moral integrity or personal authenticity - he/she gets involved in, leaving the reader at the end of the search with an effect of revelation la vérité romanesque.
The novelistic hero has a problematic relationship with his social environment and is frequently vulnerable to it because of his greater moral and emotional sensitivity. Often he is a marginal person, a stranger, he may be persecuted by the powers that be (Kafka), or he is unable or unwilling to use the violence that marks his social environment (some of Dostoevskys heroes). In the history of literature is there a cumulative discovery of the vulnerability of the protagonist? Within the oeuvre of single authors, are central characters in successive works increasingly marked by a sense of vulnerability? Can literary works be understood as narratives relating - or dramas staging - the discovery of the conceit of intolerance and invulnerability? We invite literary scholars to explore the deeper meaning of this vulnerability of novelistic and tragic heroes in a comparative and Girardian perspective.
Moderator: Andrew McKenna
Note: Due to shifts, drops, adds, and other changes, this is a page in process: check periodically for changes. Details: please contact email@example.com.