Empowering Humanity. Work in progress

  • post Type / Conferences
  • Date / 31 December 2001

Conference Organised by University of Humanist Studies, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the IHEU

8th and 9th July 2002

University for Humanist Studies, Utrecht. The Netherlands

(immediately after the IHEU’s 50th Anniversary World Humanist Congress)

Thematic outline

The University for Humanist Studies in The Netherlands is organising a conference on ‘Empowering Humanity’. A book on this subject, a ‘state of the art’ in humanist studies, will be presented. The conference also marks the 50th anniversary of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. It will aim to discuss some of the major issues addressed in our ‘Humanism, Meanings of Life, Care and Citizenship’ research programme. Academics with an interest in humanist studies are invited to share their insights with us, either by submitting a paper or by participating in the discussions.

‘Empowering humanity’ can best be described as a political, moral and existential programme in which humanity is related to meanings of life, human dignity, quality of life and inclusive citizenship. Our research aims to develop humanity-empowering strategies in which bottom-up approaches are a key element.

The University for Humanist Studies was established in 1989 and the aim behind both our teaching and research is to develop ‘a science with a human face’; i.e. a science that promotes humanity and human potential. This raises many questions, such as:

– How can academic research be combined with a political, moral and existential programme?

– What does ‘humanist inspiration’ imply in such research?

– How can humanist studies as an academic discipline be combined with humanist practices?

– Which strategies can be developed for empowering humanity and what role can research play in this?

– How can the principles of equality and diversity be combined in these empowering strategies?

– And, seen from this perspective, how can ‘quality of life’ be discussed?

These and similar questions will be addressed by the conference’s keynote speakers, Prof. Ann Phoenix (Open University, London) and Prof. Harry Kunneman (University for Humanist Studies). They will also be discussed during the workshops. We intend to have interactive sessions in which there will be ample scope for diversity and tolerance. Presentations and discussions will be given in four workshops:

1. Humanism in local contexts: theories and practices

2. Humanist studies as a new academic discipline

3. Equality and diversity

4. Quality of life and wellbeing

Outline of the workshops

1. Humanism in local contexts: theories and practices.

Chair: Dr. Peter Derkx (University for Humanist Studies)

This workshop deals with humanism. Debates as to the nature of humanism are as old as the humanist movement itself. This workshop aims to discuss humanism by taking explicit account of regional and national contexts. We will endeavour to present papers by humanists from different parts of the globe which address such questions as: What is, and/or what should be, the dominant conception of humanism in my country or region? What humanist practices are (or should be) given the highest priority in my native country? What is the relationship between this type of humanism and the social and political situation in my country? We believe that discussing humanism in this “localized” and “contextual” manner could prove extremely enlightening and interesting.

2. Humanist studies as a new academic discipline.

Chair: Dr. Adri Smaling (University for Humanist Studies)

In this workshop humanist studies are discussed from a metatheoretical perspective. Presentations and discussions might revolve around the following thematic questions:

What should its main object of study be? E.g. Humanism in its broadest sense? The existential aspects of human existence? Which meta-theoretical approaches would be most adequate? For example: Existential phenomenology? Hermeneutics? Constructivism? Narrativism? Postmodernism? And which research methods would be most appropriate – quantitative or qualitative methods? How should the practical and normative, and in particular humanising, goals be integrated and realised?

Over the past twelve years, the University for Humanist Studies has worked on the development of this new academic discipline, and has formulated several answers to these questions. These will be presented and discussed. Other contributions dealing with the above-mentioned topics are welcomed.

3. Equality and diversity

Chair: Dr. Annemie Halsema (University for Humanist Studies)

This workshop will provide an opportunity to discuss ethical and political themes and will focus on the problem of diversity and its implications for humanist studies. What implications does living together with people of different ethnic backgrounds, skin colours, genders, ages and states of health have for humanist studies? Should we start from the principle of equality or should we focus on differences? Should humanists start from the principle that we all share a common and general notion of humanity, or should we develop a notion of humanism that incorporates diversity? And could the notion of empowerment help us develop humanist studies of this kind?

Papers focusing on the following themes will be particularly welcome: human rights, the ethics of care, empowerment, the relationship between feminism and humanism, and the implications of multiculturalism.

4. Quality of life and wellbeing

Chair: Dr. Joep Dohmen (University for Humanist Studies)

Philosophers and social scientists have argued for and against a variety of different notions of the concept of quality of life. The issue is discussed on different levels and from different perspectives which rely partly on a ‘narrow or thick (vague) conception of the good’ and partly on a concept of the meaning of life. Psychologists continue to debate the merits of measuring the quality of human life in terms of ‘utility’, which is taken to mean happiness, subjective wellbeing or the satisfying of desires or preferences. Some philosophers take a different approach and present a so-called ‘capability approach’ which defines the many different types of activity that ‘quality of life’ should incorporate. Other social scientists and philosophers, and particularly those in the humanist tradition, view this notion in terms of values, goals, self-fulfilment, and meaning of life. Papers are invited which deal with (one of) the three above approaches to this subject, i.e. either from the (subjective) wellbeing standpoint, from the capability and value theory standpoint, or from the standpoint of a (narrow or thick) conception of what ‘good’ and what the ‘meaning of life’ represent.


The programme of the conference is diverse and will consist of keynote speaches, paper presentations, group discussions, and plenaries. Keynote lectures will be given by:

$ prof Ann Phoenix, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Open University in London, specializes in research on identities, young people, race and gender

$ prof. Harry Kunneman, Professor in Social Theory and Vice-Chancellor of the University for Humanist Studies

Location and accommodation

The conference will be held at the University for Humanist Studies in Utrecht, The Netherlands on Monday 8th July and Tuesday 9th July 2002. Directions on how to get here will be sent to you once we receive your registration form.

Further information about accommodation can be obtained from our website at http://www.uvh.nl/conference/


You can participate in this conference either by presenting a paper or by attending the sessions. The conference fee is EUR 150 (EUR 50 for students), whether you present a paper or not. An early response is recommended due to the limited amount of places available.

University for Humanist Studies

Ms. A. Andeweg

P.O. Box 797

3500 AT Utrecht, The Netherlands

tel. + 31 30 2390162

fax. + 31 30 2390170

The deadline for registering without presenting a paper is April 1st, 2002

You can register via http://www.uvh.nl/conference/ or by completing and sending the attached form. Alternatively, you can fax the form to: + 31 30 2390170

Terms and conditions

Please note that submission of the signed registration form is a commitment to pay the conference fee. You will be sent an invoice once we receive your registration form. Registrations may be cancelled – in writing – by 15 June 2002 at the latest. We will charge a handling fee of EUR 10 for refunds. The conference fee will not be refunded for any cancellations received after that date.

Registration form

O I would like to present a paper at the Empowering Humanity conference, in Workshop No. ….

(I enclose my abstract, max. 250 words)

O I would like to attend the Empowering Humanity conference but I do not wish to present a paper

(please tick the appropriate box)



First name





Conference fee (for two days, including coffee/tea/ lunch/closing buffet) (please tick the appropriate box)

O EUR 150

O EUR 50 (for students)

You will be sent an invoice once we receive your registration form.



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