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Symposium on The Sacredness of the Person

May 14, 2014
Swift Hall, 3rd Floor Lecture
1025 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Michael GeyerUniversity of Chicago

Hans JoasUniversity of Chicago

John D. KellyUniversity of Chicago

Ben LaurenceUniversity of Chicago

William SchweikerUniversity of Chicago Divinity School

Michael Geyer (University of Chicago), Moderator
Hans Joas (University of Chicago)
John D. Kelly (University of Chicago)
Ben Laurence (University of Chicago)
William Schweiker (University of Chicago)

cosponsored by the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago

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This symposium will discuss The Sacredness of the Person, a recent book by Professor Hans Joas.

What are the origins of the idea of human rights and universal human dignity? How can we most fully understand—and realize—these rights going into the future? In The Sacredness of the Person, internationally renowned sociologist and social theorist Hans Joas tells a story that differs from conventional narratives by tracing the concept of human rights back to the Judeo-Christian tradition or, alternately, to the secular French Enlightenment. While drawing on sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, Joas sets out a new path, proposing an affirmative genealogy in which human rights are the result of a process of “sacralization” of every human being.

Michael Geyer is the Samuel N. Harper Professor Emeritus of German and European History and Faculty Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. His research interests include the place of human rights in early constitutionalism, the question of humanitarianism and equality, and contemporary human rights law. He has written numerous articles on these topics and is co-editor of Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, Resistance against the Third Reich, 1933-1990, and War and Terror in Contemporary and Historical Perspective.


Hans Joas is Visiting Professor of Sociology and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and the Ernst Troeltsch Professor for the Sociology of Religion at the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 2011 until 2014 he was a Permanent Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS); from 2002 until 2011 he was the Director of the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt. Joas's books include The Timeliness of George Herbert Mead, Do We Need Religion? On the Experience of Self-Transcendence, The Creativity of Action, and Faith as an Option: Possible Futures for Christianity.


John D. Kelly is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on Fiji and India, on topics including ritual in history, knowledge and power, semiotic and military technologies, colonialism and capitalism, decolonization and diasporas. His most recent book, Represented Communities: Fiji and World Decolonization, co-written with Martha Kaplan, concerns the constituting of nation-states out of empires. He is currently working on two other books: Laws Like Bullets, and Technography: Sciences in the History of Cultures.


Ben Laurence is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. He works in the areas of ethics and political philosophy with interest in the philosophy of action and human rights, focusing on defending the project of ideal theory, the attempt to provide an account of the ideal or fully just political community. He is currently exploring the ways in which certain strands of Liberalism are in tension with this project. He is author of “An AnsCombean Approach to Collective Action” in Anscombe’s Intention.


William Schweiker is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His scholarship and teaching engage theological and ethical questions attentive to global dynamics, comparative religious ethics, the history of ethics, and hermeneutical philosophy. His many books include, Dust that Breathes: Christian Faith and the New Humanisms (2010). He has published numerous articles and award-winning essays, as well as edited and contributed to six volumes, including Humanity Before God: Contemporary Faces of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Ethics  and was chief editor and contributor to A Companion to Religious Ethics, a comprehensive and innovative work in the field of comparative religious ethics.