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Symposium on The Sacredness of the Person

May 14 2014 4:30pm
Swift Hall, 3rd Floor Lecture
1025 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Michael Geyer

University of Chicago

Hans Joas

University of Chicago

John D. Kelly

University of Chicago

Ben Laurence

University of Chicago

William Schweiker

University of Chicago

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 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. Professor Joas's books include 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 Ansombean Approach to Collective Action” in Anscombe’s Intention.


William Schweiker is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics and Director of the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago. His scholarship and teaching engage theological and ethical questions attentive to global dynamics, comparative religious ethics, the history of ethics, and hermeneutical philosophy. He is author of many books, including Dust that Breathes: Christian Faith and the New HumanismsReligion and the Human Future: An Essay in Theological Humanism, and Theological Ethics and Global Dynamics: In the Time of Many Worlds.