Teaching Humility in an Age of Arrogance

“Humility” isn’t a word that most academics — or Americans — identify with. Indeed, if there is a single attitude most closely associated with our culture, it’s the opposite of humility. The defining trait of the age seems to be arrogance — in particular, the kind of arrogance personified by our tweeter in chief; the arrogance of thinking that you know it all and that you don’t need to improve because you are just so great already…

Read the full story at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

José Casanova on “Religious Conviction and Intellectual Humility in Public Life: Socio-Theological Reflections”, 4:00-5:30pm, April 21



Keynote Address

Jose CasanovaJosé Casanova, Georgetown University

Keynote address: 4:00-5:30pm, April 21st (reception to follow)

Religious Conviction and Intellectual Humility in Public Life: Socio-Theological Reflections

What does it mean to have a religious conviction in our global secular age? Why is it necessary that when we enter public life, even if motivated by deeply held religious convictions, our public interventions ought to be informed by intellectual humility? In addressing these questions I will proceed with the assumption that our age is characterized by profound religious, cultural and moral pluralism, that requires that we encounter the other with deep intellectual humility and respect. Precisely because not truths or convictions but persons have rights, each person has the inalienable right to seek the truth and to hold his/her convictions publicly. I will ground my reflections on the historical experiences of the Jesuits as pioneer globalizers in the early modern age, and on the deeds and words of the Jesuit Pope Francis.  The Jesuits combined a deep religious conviction as global missionaries with a peculiar openness, controversial at their time, to accommodate other cultures and to enter into deep intercultural encounters, what Pope Francis calls the “culture of the encounter.”

José Casanova is Professor of Sociology, Theology and Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, where he heads the Program on Religion, Globalization, and the Secular. He is also a Professorial Fellow at Australian Catholic University, in Melbourne, where he directs a project on Asian/Pacific Catholicism and Globalization. Previously he served as Professor of Sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York and has held visiting appointments at numerous American and European universities. He has published widely in the areas of sociological theory, religion and politics, transnational migration, and globalization. His best-known work, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago, 1994) has become a modern classic in the field and has been translated into various languages, including Japanese, Arabic, and Turkish, and is forthcoming in Indonesian, Farsi, and Chinese. Presently he holds the Kluge Chair for Societies and Cultures of the Northern Hemisphere at the Library of Congress, where he is writing a book on “The Jesuits and Globalization.” He is also the recipient of the 2012 Salzburger Hochschulwochen Theological Prize.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Louise Richardson-Self

Louise Richardson-Self is a residential research fellow with the Humanities Institute’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life Project

H&C: What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?
R-S: I am a tenured lecturer at the University of Tasmania and teach units which contribute to both the Philosophy and Gender Studies majors. Prior to taking up my post at the University of Tasmania, I was a lecturer at the University of Wollongong, and was awarded my PhD in Philosophy from the University of Sydney in June 2014. I am the author of Justifying Same-Sex Marriage: A Philosophical Investigation (Rowman & Littlefield Intl. 2015), which emerged from research undertaken during the course of my PhD. Broadly speaking, my area of specialty is Feminist Philosophy, but I am particularly interested in events and issues that have contemporary political and ethical significance, privileging intersectionality. I am a Visiting Fellow to the Institute’s Humility & Conviction in Public Life project and will be in residence from mid-January to mid-February 2017.
H&C: What is the project you’re currently working on?
R-S: Currently I am researching hate speech. I’m interested in a variety of overlapping issues, but my main concern is to think through the problem of misogynistic hate speech against women. Little is said about women as targets of hate speech in philosophy, and I want to rectify this issue. That said, I am also interested in the evolution of hate speech alongside emerging technologies and integration of technology in our daily lives: how has the problem of hate speech changed with the emergence of the internet, smart devices, and social media? What are the harms of hate speech online and (how) do they differ from hate speech offline? Why do people disagree about what to do about hate speech (or whether anything should be done at all)? What new strategies can we devise to combat hate speech when legislation is too limited/limiting? These are all questions that I hope to work through. While I’m visiting UConn, I’ll be concentrating on an analysis of hate speech through the framework of social imaginaries – I hope that doing so will permit me to consider whether there is true understanding of the harms of hate speech amongst persons who are rarely, if ever, targeted.
H&C: How did you arrive at this topic?
R-S: Proposals to weaken Australian legislation forbidding hate speech initially sparked my interest in the topic. In my previous research (on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage) I had begun to consider and develop literature on social imaginaries, so it was with this framework in mind that I started to consider the contemporary problem of hate speech. Most philosophical analyses of hate speech utilise ‘speech act theory’ as a method for explaining the harms of hate speech (and sometimes, for justifying the need for legislative prevention/remedy). I hypothesize that applying a different theory to the issue may contribute new insights and provide a more robust understanding of the problem at hand. I do not want to see legislative protections weakened, but I am keenly aware that the law is not the solution to hate speech. We need to find alternative strategies which complement the law if we ever hope to reduce or eradicate the problem.
H&C: What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

R-S: I hope that my research will achieve a few things: I hope that my research will help people to better understand the harms of (misogynistic) hate speech, and how to identify it. I hope that my research will build scholarship on social imaginaries, and that this concept might begin to find greater purchase in the public sphere as a means for thinking through issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and so forth. I also hope that my research will enable greater empathetic connections with victims of hate speech and target groups, and greater recognition of each individual’s own intersectional location in the world. Of course, I hope that politicians, activists, and the general public will read and be moved by my scholarship, since the point of thinking through the problem of hate speech is to begin to build real-world strategies for change.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Lauren Swayne Barthold

Lauren BartholdLauren Swayne Barthold is a residential research fellow with the Humanities Institute’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life Project

H&C: What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

LB: For the past 11 years I have taught in the philosophy department at Gordon College, where I helped start and then direct the Gender Studies Minor. My main areas of teaching have been ethics, gender studies, pragmatism, and feminist theology. My scholarship has primarily focused on the the twentieth-century German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, who was instrumental in developing what’s called “philosophical hermeneutics.” Hermeneutics refers to the “art of interpretation” and although it originally applied to texts, today philosophical hermeneutics explores what it means to understand in general. What goes on in the process of understanding? Much of my writing has been devoted to demonstrating the relevance of philosophical hermeneutics for other areas of thought. For instance, my most recent book, A Hermeneutic Approach to Gender and Other Social Identities, uses hermeneutics to develop a theory of social identities. I have also written on a hermeneutic approach to the ethics of bio-enhancement.


H&C: What is the project you’re currently working on?

LB: I am working on a new book project called Critical, Fallible Dialogue, which fits really well with the “Humility and Conviction” theme. A good dialogue is one that starts from a place of strong conviction, where something is at stake. Because something is at stake one is motivated to critically reflect on the issue, one’s own position, and the merits of the other’s position. Dialogue is not an empty exchange in which anything goes. At the same time, we need to acknowledge our own fallibility. We don’t know everything–even if (especially if!) we have strong convictions about something. When we engage with another it’s important to come with the humility that one’s own position is fallible. How do we balance critique with fallibilism? What other factors contribute to a strong dialogue? What sorts of structural practices curtail or foster a good dialogue? My new book attempts to answer these questions by developing an interdisciplinary model of dialogue drawing on Buber, Gadamer, feminist theorists, critics of deliberative democracy, and dialogic practitioners.


H&C: How did you arrive at this topic?

LB: Gadamer, in part, drew on the work of Martin Buber’s seminal I and Thou to demonstrate the dialogical nature of understanding and some of my previous work has articulated a concept of dialogue based on Gadamer’s hermeneutics. But also, personally, having spent most of my life in fairly conservative religious environments, I’ve seen the importance of trying to figure out how people with strong convictions can get along with those who hold different convictions. How do we address difference? How do we get along with others who disagree with us? Obviously there is no shortage of conviction in most religious communities! How do we create spaces for critique and critical reflection within and among religious communities is a question I’ve struggled with for most of my life. Personally, I reject all forms of violence (and threats of violence) as a solution. And since I would name (some forms of) silence and silencing others as a form of violence—choosing not to talk to others is not a viable option. So how do we talk with others who hold very different sets of convictions? What does philosophy have to say about this? In general, philosophers have tended to focus on what I call a hyper-rationalistic model that privileges an exchange of reasons. This is exemplified by two of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century, Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls. Both devoted their lives’ works to figuring out how citizens can cultivate strong and peaceful democracies based on an exchange of reasons. And while I think the work they have done is tremendously important, my sense is that it takes seriously only one dimension of the human, that is, reason. If we are not just “rational animals” but also relational and emotional animals, then what does a successful model of discourse look like? When people come together, when we talk about creating community, persuading one another, agreement, and living together, focusing on reason alone is not necessarily the best way to create strong democratic and peaceful communities. When one looks at the work that dialogic practitioners do, one sees not only the limitations of focusing on reason alone but how doing so can actually heighten conflict. The “Power of Dialogue” training I received with Essential Partners (Cambridge, MA) was an excellent way for me to experience first hand a more experiential approach to dialogue. My book is an attempt to bring all these parts of my life and research together.


H&C: What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

LB: Unfortunately in the US, there is not much of an appreciation for public intellectuals. I am thrilled that part of Michael Lynch’s vision for the Humanities Institute is to work to change that by inviting academics to conceive a wider audience for their work. Humanists need a venue to get excited about the wider relevance of their work! While by the end of the twentieth century American philosophers had cloistered themselves off from the public, that had not always been case for philosophers. American pragmatism at the beginning of the twentieth century provides excellent examples, like John Dewey, of powerful philosophic voices that spoke to current issues. And I had the good fortune of studying with the contemporary pragmatist Richard Bernstein who, following in the footsteps of John Dewey, modeled an “engaged, fallibilistic pluralism” not only in his academic scholarship but in his role as a teacher and as a human being. My aim in writing my present book is to encourage people to take seriously the roll of dialogue in a democracy. I hope that as we come together to try to reinvigorate our democracy at this critical juncture, we will consider anew what it means to be active democratic citizens, and realize that dialogue is fundamental to that project.