Faultlines of Modernity: New Contexts for Religion, Ethics, and Literature. June 2-4, 2014, San Francisco State University

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Kitty Millet (San Francisco State University) chairperson of the Research Group on Religion, Ethics, and Literature
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Fault Lines of Modernity:
New Contexts for Religion, Ethics, and Literature
Conference dates: June 2, 3, 4, 2014
Location: San Francisco, CA
Abstract due date: 11/20/13

The fault lines of modernity often fissure around class, race, ethnicity, gender, region, and religion, but when humanists conceptualize modes for thinking about these rifts, religion appears compromised by its ideals and complicit in fostering alienation, oppression, and exclusion. Some scholars even argue that religion by itself inhibits thought; thought cannot negotiate the displacements of social crisis if impeded by religion's "grand narratives" (Lyotard). Therefore, reason must intervene if we hope to address the effects of these fissures on society (Badinter) and this intervention has the force of an obligation for thought. It constrains thought to be ethical.

The problem becomes a bit more complicated as philosophers observe that through its identification of modernity's "cracks," thought finds itself increasingly in need of contexts for posing questions for which it has no precedents: thought needs a context to think the unthinkable and this need historically begins with the imagination. Thought needs the imagination to represent "epistemological uncertainty" (Kant). Appiah, Cohen, Derrida, Habermas, Nussbaum, Ricoeur, among others, note that culture addresses this uncertainty by freighting art with both the representation of individual experiences caught up in "the faults" as well as a range of imagined meta-narratives in response to these social fissures. Thus what we're looking at is a collision between thought's obligation, the constraint of the ethical on the imagination, as these confront the entitlements of the aesthetic.

Literary critics, like Auerbach, Boitani, Frye, and Hartman, suggest that literature has always been a site for this collision. Furthermore, although his ethics would seem to foreclose literature as a mode for presenting the ethical, Levinas too posits a role for literature subsumed under an "art that is no longer aesthetic" (Robbins). Elie Wiesel and John Beverley argue that modernity's fault lines have produced a narrative impulse to bear witness—their examples, Holocaust narrative and the Latin American testimonio. In other words, even though the "grand narratives" of religion might be in decline, religious elements appear to punctuate literature.

Consequently, we ask is it necessary to jettison religion in order to put the aesthetic into relation with the ethical? What new subject positions are produced because of the convergence of religion, ethics, and literature? We seek papers exploring the relation of ethics and/or religion to the broad field of comparative literature, including intercultural comparative literature.

Topics might include:
Ancient, Medieval, or pre-Modern iterations of the ethical in literature

Concepts of repair in relation to Modernity's fault lines

Language as a dynamic, ethical, mystical unit for thought

The ethical and the redemptive

Literary ontology as an effect of the redemptive

Levinas and literature

New subject positions because of the convergence of religion, ethics, and literature.

Interested applicants can submit 250 word abstracts and a brief cv (no more than 2 pages) to Professor Kitty Millet (kmillet1@sfsu.edu) by November 20. This conference occurs in conjunction with the Research Group on Religion, Ethics, and Literature as it works toward certification with the International Comparative Literature Association. The conference will take place at San Francisco State University, June 2-4, 2014.