Visions of the World: Forms, Functions, and Histories of Universalism (2009 MLA panel)

full name / name of organization: 
Koonyong Kim
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Visions of the World: Forms, Functions and Histories of Universalism

Call for Papers for the 2009 Modern Language Association Convention,
Philadelphia, 27-30 December

In 1784 Immanuel Kant published "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent," conceiving of world historical processes as a developing system toward the goal of a cosmopolitan state of the human species. This
prototypical Enlightenment idea of cosmopolitanism or universalism has recently gained much scholarly attention, both as an inspiration to describe and theorize globalization and as the object of the critique of Eurocentrism and its role in knowledge production. For example, postcolonial scholarship has illuminated the
totalizing and imperializing dangers of universalizing impulses, suggesting that these tendencies toward universality and identity should be replaced by
diversity and difference in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, language, and ideology. Meanwhile, recent discourses on globalization have problematized the
concept and practice of the nation-state, calling for a reconsideration of the dialectics between universality and particularity, between global and local,between transnational and national, and between collectivity and individuality.

Our panel will draw on these scholarly debates and reflect collaboratively and creatively on universal ideas in various forms in different historical and
geographical contexts. The possible questions to be addressed include, but are not limited to:

1. What are the possible motivations of universal concepts? What is the specific historical and geopolitical dynamics which give birth to such claims? Are they always entangled with power, money, and knowledge control?

2. In addition to such a critical attitude toward European universal ideas, how should we understand universal claims historically made by peoples dominated or marginalized by European universalism such as women, the colonized, or Jews? Are the latter groups' universalizing claims truly universal or do they disclose
some unexpected particularistic aspects too?

3. What insights, if any, can the problematics of universalism bring into our critical understanding of various historical conjunctures and into our own
knowledge production? Is it possible to conceptualize and practice forms of universal vision (as opposed to particularistic universalisms) in the age of globalization in which a new set of ethical problems springs from an increasing degree of economic uneven development, cultural impoverishment, and geopolitical

4. Can we develop a new methodology whose double-edged attempt to break through from local boundaries and to adopt perspectives of global diversity helps us to
better understand the dynamic interplays of the globalized local and the localized global?

Please submit an abstract of 300 words by March 15, 2009. Selections will be made and notified by March 30. Please send inquiries and abstracts to: Chunjie
Zhang ( and Koonyong Kim (