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Symposium – Humanism Across the Atlantic: Looking for Common Ground Day 1
September 6 @ 2:00 pm - 6:30 pm
The New York Society for Ethical Culture is proud to co-host a free symposium on September 6 and 7 bringing together scholars from the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, Netherlands, and across the U.S. to explore our different approaches to Humanism. Leader Dr. Anne Klaeysen will moderate.
The symposium opens at 2:00pm on Friday 9/6. Attendance at the Friday afternoon and Saturday sessions is free and open to the public. Meals are provided free to presenters and at a $10 donation to visitors.
2:00 pm: Welcome and introductions
3:00 – 4:15 pm: Monica R. Miller: How Does it Feel to be a God? The Divine Rhetoric of Making Black Knowledge Borne
4:30 – 5:45 pm: Peter Derkx: Humanism and Aging
6:00 – 7:30 pm: Wine & Cheese Reception
8:15 am: Continental Breakfast
8:45 – 10:00 am: Anjan Chakravartty: Humanism, Science, Skepticism, and the Common Good
10:15 – 11:30 am: Anja Machielse: Humanism and Social Resilience
11:45 – 1:00 pm: Philip Kitcher: Religious Progress/Humanist Hope
2:00 – 3:15 pm: Marieke van den Doel: Textual and Visual Humanism in the Italian Renaissance: The Collaboration Between Artists and Humanists in the 15th and 16th Centuries
3:30 – 4:45 pm: Joachim Duyndam: Humanism and Moral Resilience
5:00 – 6:15 pm: Anne Klaeysen: Ethical Culture, a Non-Theistic and Humanist Religion of Ethics
6:15 pm: Closing
“Humanism and Aging”
Humanism, as a meaning frame, is defined by four characteristics: human agency, human dignity, self-realization and love of vulnerable, unique and irreplaceable persons. A humanist view of aging is in favor of healthy aging and life extension, but human life is and remains inherently vulnerable (not just medically), and in a humanist view other aims are regarded as deserving a higher priority than life extension for privileged social groups with already a high (healthy) life expectancy. Humanist priorities are: 1) another social organization of the life course with a better balance between learning, working, caring and enjoying, 2) more social justice — for too long differences in socio-economic status have been determinants of shocking differences in health and longevity, 3) development and dissemination of cultural narratives that better accommodate the fulfillment of essential meaning-needs of the elderly than the stereotyping decline- and age-defying narratives), 4) less loneliness and social isolation.
Peter Derkx studied English language and literature, philosophy and history at universities in Utrecht, Glasgow and Groningen. From 1977 to 1989, he taught at the Humanist Training Institute of the Dutch Humanist Association, and since 1989 he has worked at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, first as associate professor in the History of humanism and from 2003 to September 2016 as full professor of Humanism and worldviews. Since 2008 his research has focused on the interface of humanism as a meaning frame and aging well.
“Textual and Visual Humanism in the Italian Renaissance: The Collaboration Between Artists and Humanists in the 15th and 16th Centuries”
Marieke van den Doel
The seven pillars of modern Humanism seem to be defined in the so-called Amsterdam Declaration (2002). The sixth ‘fundamental principle’ of this declaration says: “Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.”
The concept of art as containing a transformative power, and related to creativity and the human imagination, are rooted in the Italian Renaissance, and can be traced back to the close collaboration between artists and humanists during this period. Terms derived from classical literature, such as ‘phantasia’ (imaginatio), ‘mania’ (furor) and ‘enargeia’ were applied to the visual arts for the first time.
This paper explores the collaboration between artists and humanists in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. It will argue that, in the Early Modern period, artists and humanists pursued similar goals in different ways. The paper focuses on humanistic concepts as visualized in Michelangelo’s drawing ‘Il sogno’ (The dream, c. 1533). We may conclude that ‘Renaissance humanism’ was not limited to textually transferable views and rational knowledge alone, but was embedded in a visual and material culture.
Marieke van den Doel is Assistant Professor in History of Humanism at University of Humanistics, Utrecht. She studied Art History and Archaeology at University of Amsterdam and wrote her PhD thesis on Ficino and Phantasy. Imagination in Renaissance Art and Art Theory from Botticelli to Michelangelo. She also worked as a Director in Studies of Art History and as a Vice Director of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR) and as an Exhibition Curator at Allard Pierson Museum, the archaeology museum of the University of Amsterdam.
“Humanism and Social Resilience”
Humanism as a meaning frame postulates the dignity and relational autonomy of all human beings and seeks to support the human aspiration to a meaningful life course – also, and particularly, in circumstances of adversity. In this paper, humanism as a meaning frame is connected to social resilience, understood as the ability of individuals, groups or communities to cope with and adjust to social and existential vulnerability. Social resilience pertains both to how individuals respond to adversity, and to responses at the collective level in the form of social recognition and solidarity. Recognition and appreciation, in one’s personal life but also in the wider context of society or community, form the basis for the fulfillment of the need for meaning. They are a condition for autonomy, self-development and human flourishing.
However, fundamental societal transitions in western societies have significantly altered social life and, in consequence, the possibilities for relatedness and recognition. Meaningful and supportive personal relationships have become less self-evident and people are less able to fall back on ‘given’ bonds such as family or neighborhood relationships. More than ever before, individuals need to shape their own social world autonomously.
The focus in this paper is on the social resilience of persons who experience a lack of personal competencies and social skills that are necessary to make meaningful contacts; skills that are needed to show vulnerability and to ask for help in times of adversity. It explores the mode of behavior that they habitually follow, and which implies a certain degree of safety. It is concluded that the conversant character of the habits and rituals they develop makes them feel comfortable in a social environment that does not absorb them as a matter of course.
Anja Machielse is professor of ‘Empowerment of Vulnerable Older Adults’ at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Her reaerch is focused on persons who are less able to deal with the complexity of daily life. Questions about social vulnerability (loneliness, social isolation), relational involvement and meaningfulness are central in her work. She wrote several books and articles on social contacts, loneliness and social isolation. She is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Dutch Government for the policy to combat loneliness an social isolation.
“Humanism and Moral Resilience”
This paper aims at understanding how moral resilience can be enhanced through the inspiration given by exemplars of resilience. How can, for instance, Nelson Mandela through his embodiment of – and living up to – resilience, courage, forgiveness, and spiritual strength, make others resilient, courageous, forgiving, and spiritually strong? Inspiration such as Mandela’s applies to both individuals and groups – not only the black South-African people, but also families, churches, companies, leaders, emancipation and empowerment movements worldwide. This paper takes a systemic approach: it attempts to understand inspiration like Mandela’s as a transference of resilience from one system to another; from one life in its context (Mandela’s performance during and after apartheid) to other individual and joint lives in their possibly quite different contexts.
The systemic approach of understanding resilience, in this paper, is conducted from a humanist perspective, building on the resilience research at the University of Humanistic Studies in The Netherlands. I will first briefly explain the roots of resilience in the Dutch humanist tradition. Then, the specific humanistic understanding of resilience will be sketchily compared with current, more usual conceptions. Subsequently, I will explain how I understand humanism as a tradition, rather than as a doctrine or a fixed set of values. As a tradition humanism operates as a movement of passing on (finding, reinterpreting, and applying to new contexts of) meanings, values, ideas, and practices in a critical relationship to existing (cultural, religious, political) views, opinions, and practices – in which movement the critical is for the sake of humaneness. Hence, I can argue that humanist traditions can be articulated and understood through exemplary people – sometimes called ‘role models’ – who represent or embody this (briefly speaking) ‘applying of humanist values’. These may be thinkers, scientists, artist, activists, practitioners, politicians (like Nelson Mandela just mentioned) – who can be considered to be part and representative of humanist traditions. From this basic understanding of how inspiration works, it will be demonstrated how resilience is hermeneutically transferred from the exemplar to the individual and joint moral agents we all are, making them (us) all more resilient.
Joachim Duyndam is professor of Humanism and Philosophy at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He has published books and articles on humanism and religion, resilience, exemplars, empathy, relational autonomy, mimetic theory. The central motive and main question of his work is expressed by the core concept of mimesis.
“Humanism, Science, Skepticism, and the Common Good”
Anjan Chakravartty, Appignani Foundation Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Miami
Humanistic conceptions of how best to understand our place and impact in the world commonly emphasize the role of scientific knowledge as a basis for pursuing the common good. There are, however, confusions about this idea arising from everyday thinking about science – confusions that are easily exploited by opponents of humanism. The sciences are often described in terms of ‘a method’ which secures its facts, but in reality, across their breadth, the sciences share no common method and often deal in currencies of abstraction, approximation, and idealization – a situation ripe for misleading exploitation by science skeptics. Properly understood, however, the sciences are immune to such skepticism. I explore how scientific knowledge, though incomplete and the subject of significant disagreements between both scientists and philosophers of science, is underwritten by consensus about exactly those descriptions of the world that are required to inform public policy in pursuit of the common good.
Anjan Chakravartty is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami, where he holds the Appignani Foundation Chair for the Study of Atheism, Humanism, and Secular Ethics. He writes widely on the sciences and has served as Director of the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values at the University of Notre Dame, Director of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, and Editor in Chief of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.
“Religious Progress/Humanist Hope”
Philip Kitcher, John Dewey Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
Contemporary atheists tend to denounce all forms of religion as rubbish, to be swept away as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Their rhetoric distorts current debates in unproductive ways, diverting people from important ethical questions. In many societies, including our own, the intrusion of religion into public life is troublesome. Professor Kitcher will argue that invocations of supposedly sacred texts to defend alleged moral principles are themselves morally flawed. When this point is clearly understood, it is possible to recognize that religions can make progress as they are reshaped to improve the lives of morally significant beings. Humanists should join together, across religions and beyond religion. Secular humanism, he claims, should ally itself with progressive religion, and hope to foster coevolutionary progress.
Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. Previously, he taught at the University of California, San Diego, and before that at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism, and most recently The Seasons Alter: How to Save Our Planet in Six Acts.
Anne Klaeysen: Ethical Culture, a non-theistic and humanist religion of ethics
Leader, New York Society for Ethical Culture
What I appreciate about Ethical Culture as a religion is how reasonable it is and how it makes ethics come alive for me. No creation myth or narrative about a God-made man and life after death is involved; just a commonsense recognition that we are one with the natural world and what we do with our lives matters. Perhaps that is why our numbers remain so low: there’s nothing especially mystical about ethics, although one could argue for its transcendence. I suspect that many people resonate with our message but are non-joiners, leading good lives without the need for intentional ethical community. I need community. This presentation is from a soon-to-be-released book, “How to Live a Good Life: Choosing the Right Philosophy of Life for You,” edited and with an introduction by Massimo Pigliucci, Skye C. Cleary, and Daniel Kaufman.
Anne Klaeysen will retire from the New York Society for Ethical Culture at the end September and become Leader Emerita. She remains as Humanist Chaplain at New York University (NYU) and Ethical Humanist Religious Life Adviser at Columbia University, as well as on the faculty of the Center for Education of the American Humanist Association. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Hebrew Union College in pastoral care and counseling, and Masters degrees in German from the State University of NY at Albany and business administration from NYU.
“How does it feel to be a god? The divine rhetoric of making black knowledge borne”
Monica R. Miller, Associate Professor of Religion & Africana Studies and Director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Lehigh University
In 1928, then-seasoned sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois in response to an editorial concerning the use of the “white man’s” word “Negro” in the Crisis magazine, cautions to “…not make the all too common error of mistaking names for things. Names are only conventional signs for identifying things. Things are the reality that counts,” going on to warn, “you will not alter matters by changing its name… Negro by any other name would be just as black and just as white.” Negro. Colored. Black. Nigga. Human. God. What if Du Bois’ words paradoxically substantiate, but fall short of, the merit of naming as a means of altering matter? If Du Bois is correct that “it is not the name” but rather “the Thing that counts” then perhaps to speak of gods as black folk rendered fully-human is only made possible by first renegotiating the inherited meanings of “things” (e.g., god and human(ism), as such. This paper explores the divine rhetoric of making black knowledge born (as expressed in the Nation of Gods and Earths), situating this rhetoric as humanist educative wisdom rooted in a an alchemical practice of naming that ontologizes “knowledge of self” without prescriptive promise of social transformation.
Monica R. Miller is Associate Professor of Religion & Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Lehigh University. The author of numerous books and scholarly contributions spanning topics related to religion in/and hip hop, social difference, and humanism, Miller holds research interests in religion/irreligion in popular culture, changing contours of identity and difference, theory and method in the study of religion, and new black religious thought. Miller is a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies (IHS), Co-Chair of the AAR Group, Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion, and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Humanist Association (AHA) in Washington, DC.