18-20 September 2014
University of Leuven (KU Leuven)
In 2014 we remember the beginning of the Great War, emblematic of the catastrophes that scattered every humanist illusion in the twentieth century. Our conference will take up the challenge of retrieving a sense of humanity. Re-Imagining Human wants to invite every participant to rethink the meaning of whatever ‘human’ might be. The omission of the definite article means exactly this: no ‘the’, no definition, no containment.
Contemporary culture and theory seem to be moving in two directions. One response is an embrace of the human condition as radical finitude and vulnerability. In literature and the arts, this finds expression, for example, in new forms of requiem and vanitas motifs. A multitude of voices from gender theory, post-colonialism, trauma studies, disability studies and theological anthropology are critical of the Modern view of ‘human’ for its denial of corporality, materiality and historicity, which are markers of human frailty and mortality.
A second trend aims at transcending our human limits. Both “high literature” (e.g., C.S. Lewis, Michel Tournier, David Mitchell, etc.) and popular culture (films, graphic novels, etc.) are crowded with golems, zombies, cyborgs, vampires, and other sub-human or super-human creatures. This imagination resonates partly with bio-medical dreams of a post-humanist future. Will technology realize ancient religious visions of human perfection? Or is it feeding phantasms that endanger our very being? Another challenge is the emergence of disciplines like genomics, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology: will the human mystery finally be deciphered?
Both the recognition of vulnerability and the search for transcendence are often motivated by a commitment to the humane. Re-imagining human, between the defective and the heroic (or in German, Mängelwesen and Übermensch), provokes key terms of religious anthropologies – creation and fall, contingency and the absolute, kenosis and resurrection, sin and redemption, damnation and grace, etc.
The call for papers is available here.