Call for Papers:
Universality and Its Limits
The 2013 Weissbourd Annual Conference
Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts
The University of Chicago
Franke Institute for the Humanities
**May 3–4, 2013**
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania
(Proposal Deadline: March 1, 2013)
The Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago invites paper
proposals for the annual Weissbourd Memorial Conference, to be held May 3–4, 2013 at the
Franke Institute for the Humanities. Its theme is "Universality and Its Limits."
It has become relatively commonplace to think of scholarship in the humanities and social
sciences as eschewing an orientation toward universals, and focusing instead on the
exploration of differences, situations, and particularities of various kinds. At a time when the
politics and aesthetics of difference are suspected to be largely compatible with the
universal advent of global capitalism, might the reassessment of universals and their
dissemination remain a critical topic for academic scrutiny? Across vast differences of
history and geography, disciplinary alignments, and theoretical orientations, we propose a
collective reappraisal of how our research topics and our core methods (description,
narration, interpretation, analysis, synthesis, explanation, and speculation) continue to
negotiate and challenge, both implicitly and explicitly, various forms of universality.
Universal declarations of rights and cosmopolitan political principles have been criticized for
their lack of attention to gender, economic inequality, cultural differences and democratic
sovereignty. Ideals of universal "goods" have also been challenged in the name of moral
pluralism. The idea of a progressive (or regressive) universal course to history and a
universalist approach to the divine and the transcendent have been questioned. Does this
mean that we should stop articulating issues of politics, aesthetics, ethics, law, history, or
religion within the language of universalism? Or should we keep a universalist standpoint
and investigate further the processes of negotiation and mediation that allow the
incorporation of the particular, the social or the historical into this universalist frame?
Among the various media of aesthetic production—music, literature, theater, dance, film,
visual art, interactive games, and so on—scholars frequently place emphasis on the
interpretation of works in light of their attendant cultural and historical contexts, emphasizing
their particularity and aesthetic singularity. But what kinds of universals, both implicit and
explicit, still guide our scholarly treatments of aesthetic production? How are we to assess
both poetics and aesthetics after the multi-cultural and vernacular de-centering of the
canon? Is their value still based in fundamental questions they raise about human
experience? Is it based on the theory we use to interpret and understand them? How might
figures, metaphors and paradoxes of the universal be understood as integral to the ontology
of literature, philosophy, and art?
We encourage an exceptionally broad range of answers to these questions from scholars in
all fields of the humanities and social sciences.
In particular, we hope to foster conversations about the following topics:
– progress, stasis, and regression in history
– figures, tropes, and paradoxes of the universal
– the idea of a universal history
– universality in aesthetics, hermeneutics, and/or literary theory
– music and/or image as universal languages and a cultural particulars
– human values, human rights, and the humanities
– capitalism and anti-capitalism, and globalization
– humanism, anti-humanism, and post-humanism
– the interpretation of science, medicine, and technology
– immigrants, outcasts, vagrants, & minor literatures
– social media in history and the present
– work, labor, housing, social welfare, insurance, & money as universals
– the commodification of culture & the contested universality of mass culture
– philosophy and truth, universality and relativism
– the aesthetics, ethics, and politics of translation
– democracy, cosmopolitanism and sovereignty
– the meaning(s) of populism
– criticism and critique as universals
– the universality and particularity of media technologies
– the question of universality in studies of gender and sexuality
– universality and racial difference
– Plato, the Sophists, the Stoics, Aristotle, Aquinas
– Kant, Hegel, Arendt, and Badiou
KEYNOTE ADDRESS Our keynote lecture will be given by Jean-Michel Rabaté, Vartan
Gregorian Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English and Comparative Literature
at the University of Pennsylvania.
The title of Professor Rabaté's lecture will be "Reasons of the 'Absurd': Paradoxes of the
Universal from Kafka to Badiou."
Professor Eric L. Santner, Philip and Ida Romberg Distinguished Service Professor in
Modern Germanic Studies, Professor of Germanic Studies, Committee on Jewish Studies,
and the College will serve as respondent.
TO PROPOSE A PAPER OR PANEL To propose a paper, please submit an abstract of 250
words or less, along with a brief biography of the presenter. Please email this to conference
co-chairs Michael Gallope and Geneviève Rousselière at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We especially encourage the proposal of entire panels. To propose a panel, provide the
above material for all presenters, along with a panel title and an explanation of its ambit, no
more than 500 words in length.
The deadline for all proposals is March 1, 2013.