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Spring 2011 Seminars at Syracuse University

Presented in conjunction with the Syracuse Symposium series at the Syracuse University Humanities Center

In this seminar on Kant's idea of perpetual peace, students will grapple with questions concerning peace and conflict outside the more specialized disciplinary settings where they are usually posed in the context of the historical failures that make the idea of perpetual peace appear impractical, if not impossible. In considering the possibility of peace today in this manner, we confront an impasse concerning how this very state might first come about: by the intervention of some external agency into human affairs (even by the use of threat or force), or by a change in the agent herself (by an increase in everyday diplomacy and the practice of non-violent and peaceful conduct in all relationships with others)?

It is this impasse that vividly demonstrates the pre-disciplinary character of the question of perpetual peace, since both outward and inward senses of the concept cannot be taken up by any single discipline--including the modern disciplines of political science and religion--without neglecting the other aspect of the term's meaning. Students will be asked to consider, moreover, whether in modern Western societies, the separation of the so-called religious and more inward sense of peace and the highlighting of the outward political sense, referring only to the absence of civil hostilities, has contributed to the distortion of the entire meaning of peace. Therefore, the environment of the seminar and its location in the general Humanities is aligned to the overarching philosophical approach, which will give students the opportunity to pursue questions with no single plausible answer, and should concern students regardless of their background, chosen area of study, or prospective vocational goal.

Spring 2011 Seminars at the University of Pennsylvania

Presented in conjunction with the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania

In a world engulfed by violent conflict, what do writers, filmmakers, and other artists have to say about peace? This course surveys a wide variety of contemporary works, ranging from fictional and nonfictional writings (George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, and Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls), to films (Alain Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour, Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, Errol Morris's The Fog of War, and Claude Lanzmann's Shoah), to works by less familiar Western and non-Western artists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun, Leslie Marmon Silko's The Ceremony, and Granta 112: Pakistan).

We will also explore historical and contemporary political and theoretical viewpoints, beginning with Immanuel Kant's seminal 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, and extending to such well-known 20th- and 21st-century theorists as Saskia Sassen, Achille Mbembe, and Kwame Anthony Appiah, as well as political speeches (President Obama's speech on Afghanistan, Dec. 1, 2009; Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963 and Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964; Ghandi's "Speech On The Eve of The Last Fast," 1948; and Nelson Mandela's "Speech on the 20th Anniversary of Steve Biko's Death," 1997). In this seminar, students will be asked to consider and develop their own perspectives, so that fresh understandings of peace and conflict are able to emerge.

Fall 2010 Seminars at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Villa Moynier, Graduate Institute, Geneva

Also presented at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Radical Citizenship project on Governor's Island in New York

Etymologically, the concept of 'peace' has been associated with both a state of civil society absent from conflict or hostility, and following the early English usage of the term, with a state of tranquility and inner calm that stems from an absence of disturbance or agitation. Today, however, both meanings have become socially and culturally archaic, hopelessly naive, and unsophisticated. Therefore, continuing to talk of peace according to these senses implies a certain willful innocence, since only a 'beautiful soul' could believe that in today's world security and global consensus can possibly be achieved without force and accountability.

In this seminar, participants will explore these more archaic usages of peace through dialogue and conversation in order to test whether of not they can be brought back into common parlance. We will also consider what kind of institutions would be needed to more fully realize the possibility of a 'peaceful society,' and whether individuals can participate in what Richard Sennett has called 'everyday diplomacy,' whereby our own daily rituals and practices become equally meaningful technologies for constructing a more peaceful world. Or does this very idea reflect the public's inability to meaningfully participate in any larger vision of peace, and their remove from conventional wisdom and expert discourse about peace and conflict? The seminar will begin with a screening of a brief video, featuring conversations with renowned philosophers and practitioners reflecting on Immanuel Kant's foundational essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795) with reference to 21st century international priorities and geopolitical conflicts.

The Perpetual Peace Project, in partnership with leading academic institutions, has organized seminars to provide a more intimate engagement with the project, its participants, and the critical perspectives it engages.

Students are invited to reflect on Immanuel Kant's foundational essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), and to actively engage in a diplomacy of daily life by reflecting on what the concept of peace signifies today both personally and culturally.