22nd-25th August 2023, University of Aberdeen
2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Arendt’s celebrated Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen and the two semesters she spent here in 1972 and 1973. She was the first woman to contribute to this august series, established in 1888, which is concerned with practical theology. Arendt’s lectures were published as Life of the Mind in 1977 and 1978. In this final, incomplete, work before her untimely death in December 1975, Arendt traced her commitment to what she termed ‘thinking without banisters’. Viewing thinking as the link between the active life and the moment of contemplation, Arendt underscored how critical engagement was necessary to both a healthy politics and a healthy mind. In this she implored the reader to be engaged not just in the search of truth, understood as technical expertise, but the pursuit of meaning, or moral wisdom. And it is in the dialogue between the two we find her ongoing concern for pluralism.
To mark this important anniversary and to celebrate the international and interdisciplinary resonance of Arendt’s thought, the University of Aberdeen is hosting a conference of scholars, from around the world and a diversity of areas of interest, to increase awareness of work in other disciplines and further this vibrant discussion.
Sharon Achinstein (Johns Hopkins University)
Sharon Achinstein is the Sir William Osler Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University. She has been highly influential in taking forward and popularising the use of Arendtian ideas in considering Early Modern literary works, most recently in ‘Milton’s Political Ontology of the Human’, ELH, Volume 84, Number 3, Fall 2017, pp. 591-616, which engages with the Arendtian concept of natality to explore the ground of the political in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Ronald Beiner (University of Toronto)
Ronald Beiner is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1982 he published an edition of Hannah Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. He is the author of Political Judgement (1983); What’s the Matter with Liberalism? (1992); Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit (1997); Liberalism, Nationalism, Citizenship (2003); Civil Religion (2011); Political Philosophy: What is It and Why It Matters (2014); and Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger and the Return of the Far Right (2018).
Kathryn Sophia Belle (Pennsylvania State)
Kathryn Sophia Belle is Associate Professor of Philosophy at La Belle Vie Academy. She is an affiliate faculty in African American Studies, as well as in Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question (2014) She has also co-edited an anthology, Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy and is the founding editor of the journal Critical Philosophy of Race. Much of Belle’s research has focused on critical approaches to issues of race, racism, feminism, and intersectionality.
Juliet Hooker (Brown University)
Professor Hooker is Professor of Political Science at Brown University. She is a political theorist specializing in racial justice, multiculturalism, Latin American political thought, Black political thought, and Afro-descendant and indigenous politics in Latin America. She is the author of Race and the Politics of Solidarity (Oxford, 2009) and Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento and Vasconcelos (Oxford, 2017). Her current research project examines the politics of loss, aspects of which have appeared in “Black Protest/White Grievance: On the Problem of White Political Imaginations Not Shaped by Loss,” South Atlantic Quarterly 116 no. 3 (2017): p. 483-504 and “Black Lives Matter and the Paradoxes of U.S. Black Politics: From Democratic Sacrifice to Democratic Repair,” Political Theory 44, no. 4 (2016): p. 448-469.
Hannah Arendt remains polemical. She is increasingly turned to by political theorists anxious to recuperate a vision of civil life as diverse, interconnected and multivocal. If the current political moment has been characterised as experiencing a populist wave, a form of politics defined by its antagonism to pluralist multiplicity in society, Arendt’s writings have become a site of resistance, offering an articulate defence of pluralism and its embodied virtues. Arendt’s work has thus informed recent discussion of the public square; the totalitarian impulse in politics, the performative nature of public speech; the concept of shared sovereignty; and the moral commitments of republicanism and direct democratic action. She is a central figure in debates around the concept of the political – primarily as an antagonist to the increasingly influential Carl Schmidt – the legitimacy of violence, and the possibility of civil society’s renewal.
Arendt’s influence has also extended beyond the political domain, reaching out to create an interdisciplinary legacy. Notably she has been influential in debates around the active life and virtue ethics, as well as a wide range of historical and literary studies notably challenging and complementing Jurgen Habermas’s concept of a historically situated public sphere and the theory and practice of social media. She has been a foil in debates over natality, posthuman studies and animal studies.
However, Arendt has also come under increased scrutiny, with scholarship concerned with the limits and lacunas of her vision. These have emphasised her co-option of Adolf Eichmann’s self-presentation as a bureaucratic functionary in her formulation of ‘the banality of evil’; her entanglement with racist politics in her treatment of the civil rights question in America; her failure to engage with the women’s movement and the feminist claim to politicise the personal; and the complicity of her sustained relationship with the controversial existentialist Martin Heidegger. To reflect these diverse interests and concerns we have devised the following panels
To reflect these areas of interest and concern the conference will consist of the following panels:
Pluralism, Liberalism, Freedom
Problematic Arendt: Gender, Race & Empire
Public Speech, Performance & Identity
Posthumanism and the Human Condition
Literature and Religion
The Totalitarianism Question
Phenomenology and Thinking
Arendt’s Eichmann, Judaism & Identity Politics
Revisiting The Life of the Mind