The Idea of Europe: The Clash of Projections#

Vienna, 8-10 September, 2017

Call for Papers#

Deadline April 30, 2017


Recent developments within and outside Europe have challenged the very idea of Europe, calling it into question and demanding reconsideration of its underlying assumptions. Since Aristotle’s times, Europeans have habitually associated themselves with dialogic openness and inclusiveness, as opposed to the despotic exclusiveness and violence that has marked other regimes and societies. The tradition of highlighting a peaceful, cosmopolitan European self-perception against a background of bellicose, non-European provincialism is well documented. This assumption has tended to occlude the – no less well-documented – fact that the unification of mankind and the growth of a global world system, triggered by Renaissance colonialism, was accompanied by exclusions and atrocities: plantations, factories, and colonies were among the principal laboratories of a European-centered concept of humanity. This conference raises the question whether this legacy at the present moment translates into power asymmetries. Does this humanity constitutively rely on a gap which serves to keep interests apart? Was the democratic freedom of the European political space purchased at the expense of violence applied beyond its borders and the concomitant normative pressures intensified toward its frontiers?

To give an example, Johann Gottfried Herder argued that the “general spirit” of Europe amalgamates the “tribe formation of many European nations”. Due to the evolutions and ameliorations of ethnic narrow-mindedness that occurred over many centuries in this climatically privileged part of the world, “everything in Europe tends toward a gradual suspension of national characters”. As with plant life, according to Herder, the environmentally bound non-European races and peoples flourish and wither, but it is within the more mobile and advanced European races that culture goes forth, taking on the seeds of withered peoples in order to continue nature’s vital creation. This is why cosmopolitan Europeans are predestined to carry the torch of humanity toward the future freedom. Unfortunately, Herder’s European idea of dialogically oriented, generous and self-educating people rests on endless geopolitical devaluations, marginalizations and exclusions; even as it establishes proper “human nature,” it outlaws and/or derogates improper “natural humans”. For example, Herder claims that the Jews are a parasitic people “hanging onto almost all European nations and drawing more or less profit from their juice” and that “Gypsies” are “good for nothing but harsh military discipline”. In contrast, Germans have “protected the culture that remained after the storm of the epochs, developed the common spirit of Europe and slowly and conspicuously ripened to effectuate all the world regions on earth”.

Herder’s ideal of a gradual evolutionary harmonization of European diversity seems to have been predicated on a particular a-priori view of civility and historical progress, itself linked to metropolitan European values, which now have lost their automatic self-evidence. Europe has until today permanently reinvented its singularity against the background of external and internal others’ particularities. Even its acknowledgement of the colonial and genocidal aspects of its history has been co-opted into a discourse of self-doubt and guilt-acceptance as a sign of moral superiority or at least maturity; while an Enlightenment ethics of even-handed justice and critique of hegemonism underlies, ironically, critiques of European hegemonism and eurocentrism.

Precisely because the singular European self needs these particular non-European others as its enduring background that it cannot bid them farewell. In short, the European self cannot assert its singularity without exempting itself from non-European particularity. According to Zygmunt Bauman, “‘we do not know who we are’ and even less do we know what we can yet become”. As Rodolphe Gasché has explained, this ultimately renders European culture an “infinite task” of consistent self-singularization against a background of other, putatively non-European, historical, geopolitical and cultural particularizations.

This conference endeavors to examine how Europe has been conceptualized by these ‘others’ located both within and outside Europe. Who are these ‘others’ that have achieved such prominent and powerful expression in the course of recent developments and how have they contributed towards shaping and forging the idea of Europe, both today and throughout history? We welcome historical and geopolitical perspectives, general philosophical and theoretical considerations, as well as case studies. The time envisaged for individual presentations (including discussion) is 45 minutes.

Organizational Committee

Professor Vivian Liska (Jewish Studies, University of Antwerp)
Professor Joep Leerssen (European Studies, University of Amsterdam)
Professor Vladimir Biti (Slavic Studies, University of Vienna)

A provisional list of confirmed participants – the deadline for applications March 31#

1. Arsenijević, Damir, UK/Bosnia and Hercegovina
2. Avineri, Shlomo, Israel
3. Belge, Murat, Turkey
4. Bialasewicz, Luiza, Netherlands
5. Biti, Vladimir, Austria/Croatia
6. Boldrini, Lucia, UK/Italy
7. Delanty, Gerard, UK
8. Dominguez, César, Spain
9. Ette, Ottmar, Germany
10. Gasché, Rodolphe, USA
11. Hansen-Löve, Aage, Germany/Austria
12. Inaga, Shigemi, Japan
13. Kristeva, Julia, France
14. Leerssen, Joep, Netherlands
15. Li, Yinbo, China
16. Liska, Vivian, Belgium/USA
17. Ugrešić, Dubravka, Netherlands/Croatia

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