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From the Director: Back from China, Forward to the Cosmopolis

You get pegged as an optimist, and then they smile when you talk. They pat you on the head, meaning to be affectionate, even while they patronize your vision and conviction. It’s annoying, but I accept the condescension gladly. It’s a small price to pay for the chance to carry on thinking, talking, and building a community in which so many of us deeply believe.

When I say ‘they,’ I mean those too impatient to consider what the humanities means and brings — certainly not our partners in aspiration, our colleagues in Delhi, Beijing, Stockholm, Dublin and elsewhere. Those of us who have joined together in the last fifteen months share the gleam of possibility. Now in late May we know afresh what the humanities can be, because we’ve just finished living through an example of what international cooperation can mean to the cause.

Our third international conference under the Global Humanities Initiative was held at the University of Nanjing, May 17-20. Five traveled from India, and five from Charlottesville, three from Britain, one each from Sweden and Ireland – all to join fifteen Chinese scholars in the event under the noble title: “The 3rd International Symposium on Humanities in the World – The Value of Humanities Research: Cross-Cultural and Inter-disciplinary dialogues.”

It was exhausting, because exhilarating. We had talks on Chinese opera and Indian refugees, on Confucius and Max Weber, on gardens and tents, happiness and empathy. And that was just before tea. The group photo hovering above is a visual sign of what’s happened in these fifteen months: the standing together, shyly but proudly, the sense of resolve and the sense of humor, the desire both to dwell among the rigor of ideas and then to carry thought into the imperfect world.

As of this morning (May 28, 2013) we have firm and growing partnerships with the new Oxford humanities center (T.O.R.C.H.), with Marg Humanities (the Humanities Way) at Delhi University, with the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and with Nanjing University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences.

The first of our international conferences was held in Charlottesville in April 2012, the second in Delhi in August of that year. In October, we meet in a smaller group here at U.Va. Our subject will be Cosmopolitanism, our keynote speaker Thomas Pogge of Yale, our guests from all over Latin America.

See more photos from the conference by visiting our facebook page.


  1. annauva said:
    on June 1, 2013 at 11:23 am | Reply >

    As so many versions of globalization run roughshod over individuals, communities and cultures, destroying foundations at the basis of society, it’s heartening to see an initiative built so beautifully and thoughtfully, person to person, upon these noble, shared aspirations. I look forward to thinking together about what might constitute a new Cosmopolitanism.

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