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World conference aims to rehabilitate human sciences

Author  :  ZHANG JUNRONG and ZHANG QINGLI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-08-21

In response to increasing global financial instability, marginalization of the humanities and the underrepresentation of non-Western scholars in international intellectual production and cooperation, a global conference was recently held with the goal of rehabilitating and rebuilding the humanities.

Under the theme “Challenges and Responsibilities for a Planet in Transition,” the World Humanities Conference (WHC) was held from Aug. 6 to 12 in Liège, a city in eastern Belgium. It was co-organized by UNESCO, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) and the World Humanities Conference–Liège 2017 Foundation.

The one-week event gathered about 1,800 participants from the fields of science, politics, art and communication as well as representatives of international, government and non-governmental organizations.

In his address to the opening ceremony, Chao Gejin, director of the Institute of Ethnic Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and president of the CIPSH, pointed out some worrying phenomena in the fields of humanities, such as faculty shortages, declining enrollments and funding cuts. The abuse of instrumental rationality and the lack of a humanistic spirit can be commonly seen in the world today, he said.

“We are truly delighted at the progress made in science and technology because it has created landscapes of knowledge production, dissemination and application that are rather different from the past,” Chao said. “Big data, mass storage and easy retrieval have brought new academic dimensions and growth points.”

The influence of the natural sciences on humanities and social sciences is growing, while natural scientists cannot divorce themselves from philosophy when exploring the laws of the physical world, Chao said. He expressed the hope that the cooperation and mutual support between natural sciences and social sciences will definitely be conducive to the long-term project of human betterment.

President of the WHC Adama Samassékou noted that the recent environmental, energy, demographic and digital challenges— together with existing inequalities and poverty—accentuate the widespread feeling of existential angst and a lack of confidence in the future.

The most prevalent “development model” today is founded upon a culture of “having,” of profit, Samassékou said, adding that it has already shown its limitations, and the current crisis confirms that it is now bankrupt.

Samassékou said the “Western model” is responsible for the Eurocentrism and Western-centrism seen in international relations, both in terms of goods and intellectual production. As a result, a paradigm shift toward the promotion of values that are more aligned with a culture of “being” has become imperative, he added.

Based on these considerations, Samassékou suggested exploring a new concept: “humanitude.”

“Humanitude is our permanent openness toward the Other, our relationships as human being to human being,” he explained. “It demands a permanent relationship of solidarity, free from calculation—a spontaneous impulse of welcoming the Other,” he said, emphasizing that this humanitude makes it possible to “connect human to human.”

In this context, it becomes imperative to reconsider the role of the humanities within our contemporary societies, Samassékou said. It needs to take into account both the specificities and the resources inherent in each culture, valuing them wisely, and the possibilities for exchange, for dialogue and mutual enrichment between them, he added.

Editor: Yu Hui

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