'Conversations with Tradition' conference

full name / name of organization: 
Modern Horizons

Conversations with Tradition

In collaboration with the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, for the fourth annual Modern Horizons conference—to be held October 24th and 25th, 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta—we invite proposals for 20 minute presentations on the theme of 'Conversations with Tradition.'

The question of tradition is the question of personal and communal meaning in time. Tradition, 'that which is lived and handed down,' is part of our everyday lives, whether we recognise it or not. In our own habits and dreams, in our conversations with others or with ourselves, in our communities and institutions, in our cultural heritage and religions, in the public square and in our living rooms, various traditions give depth and texture to our sense of being and to our various ways of understanding the world. Whether accepted, rejected, or lived unconsciously, tradition saturates our notions of self, friend, and community. Nonetheless, in our time—which, on the surface, is often hostile to notions of tradition—the question of tradition is frequently met with feelings of vulnerability and insecurity (finding tradition too large a responsibility to bear) or with a sense of self-importance that leads to self-assertion (finding tradition a threat to one's perceived identity, one's sense of self). In this way, the question of tradition is one of confrontation, rather than conversation.

To be in conversation with tradition means to attend to it, to come face to face with it, in one's own life and in the lives of others. To be in conversation with tradition means neither to blindly accept nor fearfully reject it, but rather to work to perceive and understand its contours, how it thickens communal and personal life. This understanding must be critical, for the rich benefits of tradition are all-too-often mistaken and misused, in which case tradition turns into an ideology that has neither room nor capacity for difference. When this happens, instead of being a fructifying landscape of meaning, tradition becomes instead a weapon of colonisation, a way of avoiding or overturning ethical presence to the other person or community to which one relates. Rather than an openness and responsibility to other people and cultures, it becomes a force of insularity, a way of dismissing the world insofar as the world is not made in one's own image. To a large extent, this way of construing and living tradition has its grounds in personal fear and neuroses.

This negative misunderstanding of tradition, and the dangers it poses, frequently and lamentably overshadow the positive, enriching character of tradition. For to have one's life deepened, to see how and to what degree one participates in a larger, grander continuum of meaning, is both heartening and thought-provoking. It is heartening because it shows one is not alone, that one is rather part of a larger struggle for meaning in life; it is thought-provoking, for the work involved in accepting and affirming for oneself meaning that arises from elsewhere is an involved task—one that requires balancing between what is essentially valuable in a tradition and one's own integrity and identity in time and place. In this way, tradition is not necessarily something to be rejected either as an overwhelming presence or a threat to one's identity; rather, tradition may become part of our familiar world, part of the way in which we navigate our everyday lives and work through our sense of past, present, and future. To see
tradition in this way is to affirm how it is a dialogic partner to one's own experience, a 'friend' that helps deepen, rather than diminish, how one lives and relates in the world in time. Instead of a difficult burden to be confronted, tradition becomes a meaningful environment for working through the 'ultimate' questions of life, and becomes an edifying presence in the life of a person and community. Indeed, realising the truth of a tradition personally is an ongoing responsibility, and done ethically, it is the primary way in which tradition avoids devolving into ideology.

Thus the question of tradition remains essential for our time and place. Whether considering the volatile world of politics, the rich interplay of religious communities, the dialogic world of friendship, or the deep registers of personal intimacy, tradition plays a significant role, for it addresses essentially how and who we are. It is our hope that this conference will attend to these issues in a rewarding and lasting way.

With these ideas in mind, we invite abstracts of 500 words or full papers (taking not more than 20 minutes). Possible topics may include but are not limited to:
-tradition and heritage
-questions of meaning in time
-time, place, identity
-forms of community
-religious tradition and the public sphere
-tradition and personhood
-what is appropriate?
-artistic tradition and creation
-the ontology of the festival
-tradition as dialogue
-tradition as ideology
-traditional meaning and openness to the other/difference
-contemporary questions of community
-traditions and trends
-responsibility and the past
-how do we face the future?
-hope, idolatry, and the future

Please submit abstracts or full papers to editors@modernhorizonsjournal.ca by 15 June 2014.

Modern Horizons