Paradoxes of Universalism - 2020 International Conference

We welcome papers to the international conference, held in University of Helsinki, November 4–6, 2020.

Confirmed keynote speakers

Ayten Gündoğdu (Barnard College), Kevin Olson (UCI), Rose Parfitt (Kent), Jayne Svenungsson (Lund).

Organized by the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives (EuroStorie), Academy of Finland.

After WWI, there was a growing dissatisfaction with the European conceptions of universalism epitomized by the Enlightenment’s faith in the progress of reason. The dire consequences of industrialization, imperialism, and colonialism, made apparent by the unprecedented physical, moral, and economic ruins of war, seemed to require the abandonment of the core ideas that had hitherto defined European identity. Among these, the idea of universal reason began to appear as a naïve, if not outright dangerous, product of the belief in European cultural superiority. Both, universal reason and its companion Eurocentrism, needed to be profoundly questioned and possibly discarded.

However, many of those engaged in this questioning soon found out that it was difficult to drop the idea of universality altogether. Most analyses of the crisis found a key cause in the pre-war degradation of universal reason into relativistic doctrines. Consequently, relapsing into relativism was perceived as a dead end, for it could very well have been the crisis’ own source and it could not answer the very problems the questioning sought to address. Therefore, in law, political thought, philosophy and even in the arts, we witness a wave of creative reinterpretations of universalist narratives, rather than an outright abandonment of universalism.

This conference invites contributions seeking to capture the paradoxical nature of universalism in the twentieth century, an idea in constant crisis but also constantly redeployed and reinvented. We encourage especially, but not exclusively, papers that deal with the following topics:

  • Human rights and universal foundations;
  • Universality beyond Europe;
  • Spatialities and temporalities of universalist narratives;
  • Cultural and national particularities of universality;
  • Religious and spiritual understandings of universality;
  • Contested adjacencies of universalism: democracy, nation, pacifism, liberalism, socialism, etc.
  • Universalism and the international order;
  • The rise of mass society: politics, technology, and war.

Interested participants should submit an abstract of no more than 400 words to by 27.03.2020. Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by 09.04.2020. The organizers are unfortunately unable to aid in either travel or accommodation arrangements or the cost of travel or accommodation.