ACLA 2023: Theories and Practices of Empathy Across the World

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Saumya Lal
contact email: 

This seminar explores conceptions of empathy in various philosophical, cultural, and linguistic traditions across the world. The English word “empathy,” adapted from the German einfühlung and closely associated with the older term sympathy, is notoriously slippery. Scholars have identified various affective-cognitive processes that empathy connotes, including imagining oneself in others’ situations, comprehending others’ perspectives, feeling what others feels, feeling affected by others’ experiences, and caring for others. Investigating the premises and implications of these empathic processes, scholars have shown that attending to nuanced differences between notions of empathy enhances our understanding of its possibilities and limitations. More broadly, it allows us to probe the frameworks of inter-personal and socio-political relations that affect and are affected by the workings of empathy.

So, this seminar invites papers that will deepen our understanding of the ethics and politics of empathy by examining formulations of empathy (and related concepts) across different cultural contexts. For instance, how does the Japanese concept of omoiyari, which implies intuitive understanding and ensuing action, envision the relationship between empathy and altruism? What does the Zulu greeting sawubona, which translates to “I see you,” suggest about the role of empathic witnessing in the lived experience of intersubjectivity and collectivity? What does the conceptualization of karuna (compassion) as a key aesthetic response in the Sanskrit theory of rasa indicate about the role of empathy in literary interpretation and criticism? Further, how do literary texts mobilize and complicate the promises of empathy as they engage its varied theoretical models and cultural practices? What insights can comparative analyses of texts offer about the commonalities and particularities of empathy across different cultural contexts?

Bringing together a range of perspectives, this seminar hopes to advance ongoing debates in the growing scholarship on empathy. Contributors may want to address issues such as: whether and how empathy disrupts discourses of othering and/or risks suppressing and assimilating difference; the potential role of empathy in unsettling and/or perpetuating hierarchal power relations; the ways in which empathy can lead one to embrace and/or evade responsibilities toward others; the social and psychological factors contributing to the limits of empathic understanding; debates about the putative universality of emotions and the relationships between affect, cognition, and emotion.

The ACLA 2023 Annual Meeting is scheduled for March 16-19 in Chicago. Please submit 300-word abstracts by October 31 via the ACLA submission portal:

Please do not submit abstracts directly to the organizer. For questions, contact