"Paradoxes of Universalism" conference

"Paradoxes of Universalism" conference, University of Helsinki, November 4–6, 2020. This will be a hybrid conference with some presentations in-person and some virtually over Zoom. The whole conference will be streamed in Zoom. The Zoom session is open to everyone without registration.

The presentations in bolded text will be given virtually in Zoom. The presentations not bolded will be given in-person and streamed in Zoom. All times in the programme are in Helsinki time (GMT+2).

You can read the abstracts of the presentations here (pdf):


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.


November 4, 2020


10:00 – 12:00 Panel 1 (Chair: Ville Erkkilä)

Stefan Nygard (Helsinki) and Johan Strang (Helsinki): Universalism and Imperialism in the Geopolitics of Intellectual History

Konstantinos Kostas (Helsinki): Hannah Arendt on Rethinking Work in the Time of Industrial Automation

Tommi Hjelt (Turku): Ambivalence of Disruption. Temporal and Spatial Aspects of the Notion of Discontinuity in German Literature in the Interwar Period  (virtually in Zoom)

Ari-Elmeri Hyvönen (Jyväskylä): Universal Science, Universal Responsibility, and the Earth: Lessons from The Mid-Twentieth Century to the Age of the Anthropocene   (virtually in Zoom)


13:30 – 15:30 Panel 2 (Chair: Zöe Jay)

Brianne McGonigle Leyh (Utrecht): ‘We will let it die on its own’: Culture and Power at Play between the US and the ICC   (virtually in Zoom)

Nikhil Narayan (Queens University Belfast): Asia’s Reluctance to Join the ICC: Who is Jilted by Whom?   (virtually in Zoom)

Joshua Bishay (Paris Nanterre): ‘Solemnly Declare to Tell the Truth’: Internationalising the Solemn Undertaking before the ICC   (virtually in Zoom)

Julie Fraser (Utrecht): Towards ‘Universal’ Criminal Law: Islamic Law and the ICC   (virtually in Zoom)


15:50 – 17:50 Panel 3 (Chair: Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz)

Juan Pablo Scarfi (San Andres): Universalizing Regionalism or Regionalizing Universalism from the Americas? Alejandro Álvarez, the Twenty Years Crisis and the Reconstruction of the International (Human Rights) Law of the Future   (virtually in Zoom)

Sophie Starrenburg (Leiden): Reconciling the Universal and the Particular in the International Legal Protection of the Cultural Heritage   (virtually in Zoom)

Rodrigo Cespedes (Max Planck Institute – Halle): Indigenous People, Cultural Defenses and International Treaties: Between Universalism and Moral Relativism, a Perspective from the Global South   (virtually in Zoom)

Ukri Soirila (Helsinki): The Rise, Fall and Afterlife of the Law of Humanity Project


18:30 – 19:45 Keynote 1 (Chair: Pedro Magalhães)

Kevin Olson (California – Irvine): The Politics of the Universal:  Universalism in the Diaspora of European Ideas   (virtually in Zoom)


November 5, 2020


9.00-10.15 Keynote 2 (Chair: Pamela Slotte)

Jayne Svenungsson (Lund): Radical Incarnation: The Dangers and Promises of Christian Universalism   (virtually in Zoom)


10:35-12:35 Panel 4 (Chair: Tuukka Brunila)

Mårten Björk (Oxford) and Tormod Otter Johansen (Gothenburg): End of Law   (virtually in Zoom)

Rope Kojonen (Helsinki): Universalism in the Recent Science and Religion Discussion    (virtually in Zoom)

Imranali Panjwani (Anglia Ruskin): Developing our Imperfect Reason to Understand Islamic Universals: Ibn Rushd’s Rationalist Approach to Scripture and Human Existence   (virtually in Zoom)

Olli-Pekka Vainio (Helsinki): Universal Reason and Tradition according to Alasdair MacIntyre


13:30-16:00 Panel 5 (Chair: Ville Suuronen)

Elisabetta Fiocchi Malaspina (Zürich): Universalising Colonial Law Principles (Late 19th and Early 20th Century)   (virtually in Zoom)

Jacob Giltaij (Amsterdam): Refugee Scholarship and the Universality of Legal Concepts   (virtually in Zoom)

Paolo Amorosa (Helsinki): A World Safe for Catholicism. Interwar International Law and the Many Faces of Neo-Scholastic Universalism

Ville Erkkilä (Helsinki): The Problem of Universalizing Concepts in Post-War Conceptual History

Kaius Tuori (Helsinki): Linking Intellectual History and Conceptual History through the Concept of Universality and the Universality of Concepts


16:30-17:45 Keynote 3 (Chair: Kaius Tuori)

Ayten Gündoğdu (Columbia): Border Deaths and the Crisis of Human Rights   (virtually in Zoom)


November 6, 2020


9:00-11:00 Panel 6 (Chair: Timo Miettinen)

Özgür Emrah Gürel (Dokuz Eylül University): Three Europe, Three Modernities: Rival Accounts of Democratic Republicanism in Habermas, Taylor and Negri   (virtually in Zoom)

Marianne Sandelin (Helsinki): The Conservative Origins of the 20th Century Notions on the Relationship between the Enlightenment and Totalitarianism

Firat M. Haciametoglu (Leuven): Is it possible to historicise universalism? The inclusivity and the concept of the lifeworld   (virtually in Zoom)

Julius Telivuo (Jyväskylä): Open and Closed Universalism


11:30-12:45 Keynote 4 (Chair: Paolo Amorosa)

Rose Parfitt (Kent Law School): Self-fulfilling Ontologies: Nazi Eagles in the Rainforest   (virtually in Zoom)



Ayten Gündoğdu

Ayten Gündoğdu is the Tow Associate Professor for Distinguished Scholars in the Department of Political Science at Barnard College-Columbia University. She is a political theorist whose research centers on modern and contemporary European political thought, critical human rights studies, international political and legal theory, and politics of asylum and immigration. In addition to several journal articles and book chapters on these topics, Gündoğdu is the author of Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (Oxford, 2015). She is currently at work on a new book-length project examining the regime of impunity surrounding border deaths.

Kevin Olson

Kevin Olson is a political theorist who writes on issues of popular and insurgent politics, postcoloniality, the cultural and material bases of politics, poststructuralism, and critical theory. He is the author of Imagined Sovereignties: The Power of the People and Other Myths of the Modern Age (Cambridge, 2016), Reflexive Democracy: Political Equality and the Welfare State (MIT, 2006), and editor of Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates Her Critics (Verso, 2008). Professor Olson's current research focuses on the cultural and normative bases of popular politics. It examines the complex ways that ideas such as "the power of the people," "the public sphere," and "speaking truth to power" inhabit our collective imagination. It traces these political imaginaries through a variety of written texts, images, and political practices. This work is largely genealogical, drawing on rich archives of treatises, pamphlets, broadsheets, correspondence, court records, illustrations, caricatures, and photographs from the postcolonial world and Europe. It maintains dialogue with insights of Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, Ernesto Laclau, Benedict Anderson, Pierre Bourdieu, Cornelius Castoriadis, and others, and ranges over themes of collective imagination, constituent power, postcoloniality, collective identity, performativity, the construction of public spheres, and the conceptual architecture of popular sovereignty.

Rose Parfitt

Rose Parfitt joined Kent Law School in April 2016. She has published widely in the fields of international law, legal history, critical theory and history of art, broadly speaking. Her first monograph, The Process of International Legal Reproduction: Historiography, Inequality, Resistance, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. She received her doctorate in 2011 from SOAS (University of London). Dr Parfitt’s research is focused on the development of new techniques aimed at uncovering, making sense of and challenging international law’s role in the creation and preservation of a world in which wealth, power and pleasure are distributed more and more unequally. Her work (both individual and collaborative) involves the bringing together of words, images and sounds – and of traditions dedicated to analysing words, images and sounds – in order to find more effective ways of getting at the legal past and its material consequences for the human and non-human world.

Jayne Svenungsson

Jayne Svenungsson is a Professor of Systematic Theology (with competence in Philosophy of Religion) since 2015 at the University of Lund. Her doctoral dissertation centered on the renewed debate on God within French phenomenology in the 1990s, and her present research is focused on philosophy and theology of history as well as on political philosophy and theology. In recent years she has also worked extensively on various aspects of Jewish thought and on anti-Jewish stereotypes within Christian theology. Currently, she is PI of a project on spiritual and aesthetic experience.