25 May 2011
University of Cambridge
The workshop will be concerned with the contemporary significance and relevance of Beauty. The Renaissance attempted to return to the ancient concern with beauty, central to classical Greek and Roman culture and philosophy, taking over and imitating its norms in architecture, in philosophy, and the arts; but excessive formal imitation undermines forms and fails to rekindle the spirit. This is why the Renaissance was followed by the Reformation, with its attempt to resuscitate Christian ascetic purity, with similarly problematic results; while its centrality as a historical period for the gestation of the modern world was replaced by the Protestant Ethic and the Enlightenment by sociologists and by political scientists, just as by comparative historians or public philosophers, up to our days. Concerning the first, it is enough to refer to Max Weber’s famous thesis about the Protestant work Ethic and the rise of modern capitalism; while concerning the latter, the central reference point is Habermas’s call for a return to the ‘Enlightenment project’.
However, we would argue that, beyond the schismatic religious divisions that marred the early modern period, and beyond the legacies of the Enlightenment we should rather take inspiration for reclaiming beauty from the Renaissance, if not directly from Antiquity. This is because they came close to identifying Beauty with the social, in the sense of the eidos, as an absolute, moral and eternal, that exists separately and independently from us, yet within reach. This is what we mean by ‘reclaiming beauty’ – the recognition of the ‘invis¬ible and unchanging beauty which pervades all things’ (in the words of Plotinus, as quoted by Gregory Bateson).
Given these aims, the Workshop will have to be interdisciplinary, even pluri-disciplinary. As both Antiquity and the Renaissance are historical periods, the Workshop will rely centrally upon the contribution of comparative historical sociologists and philosophers of history. However, given that it will connect the Classical Greek and Roman period and Italian Renaissance of the 13th to 16th centuries to the present, it will also strongly involve social scientists, focusing especially on anthropological perspectives, including both the discipline of social and cultural anthropology, the history and philosophy of science and the broader horizon of classical philosophical anthropology, in particular the work of pre-Socratics and Plato, among contemporary thinkers Gabriel Tarde, Gregory Bateson and Colin Turnbull, and also Bruno Latour, one of the first contemporaries who re-claimed the value of the ‘charming social’.
This workshop will be a forum for researchers across disciplines and historical periods, for all those interested in the history of harmonious existence, searching for giving a standard and constitution for being, in taking back the dignity of nature and joy of order.
Conveners: James O’Duibh (Cork), Agnes Horvath -International Political Anthropology (Cambridge)
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