The Societas Ethica Annual International Conference on
“Giving an Account of Evil”
Hosted by Volos Academy for Theological Studies
August 24-27, 2017, Volos, Greece
On August 24-27, 2017, the Societas Ethica Annual International Conference was successfully hosted by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in Volos, Greece. During the opening Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, the Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies and Dr. Hille Haker, the President of Societas Ethica briefly welcomed the participants and introduced the topic of the conference.
At the opening first keynote session Prof. Marcel Hénaf’s (University of California San Diego) paper, entitled “On the Genesis of Evil in the Human Species: Homo Sapiens, Homo Loquens, Homo Crudelis” was read in absentia. In his paper Hénaf argued that what has been called the problem of evil has generally come under three speculative approaches: religious, metaphysical, and moral. He proposed to reformulate the question based on contemporary knowledge on the evolution of our species as compared to other living species, knowledge developed mostly by paleontology, biology, ethology, and cultural anthropology. This approach should make it possible to avoid the risk of a substantialist or allegorizing conception (gnostic, for example) of the question of evil and to defend the idea that what we call “evil” is primarily a form of relationship and a type of action. During the second day of the conference different parallel sessions took place.
At the first short paper session, speakers included Mrs. Alexandra Lebedeva (Department of Theology, Uppsala University), “Truth Commission as Facilitator of Ethical Transition”; Prof. Göran Collste (Centre for Applied Ethics, Linköping University), “Rectification for the Slave Trade”; Dr. Hille Haker (Loyola University Chicago), “Vulnerable Agency and the Problem of Evil”; Dr. Zachary Goldberg (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), “The Many Faces of Evil”; Dr. Andrea Günter, “Ursprung oder Extrem? Gegenseitigkeit oder wirkliche Achtung?”; Dr. Deborah Casewell (Liverpool Hope University), “The Unreality of Evil: The Theological Return to Nothingness.”
At the second Keynote session, Prof. Maureen Junker-Kenny (Trinity College Dublin) spoke on “Justice and Mercy as Attributes of God in the Face of Human Evil: Last Judgement with Dual Outcome, or apokatastasis panton (ultimate reconciliation)?” where she argued that the experience of evil has given rise to widely divergent intellectual responses in the Bible, in philosophy, and in the history of Christian thought. The lecture explored the relationship between God’s justice and God’s mercy in the Bible, and investigated differences in the theological anthropologies and doctrines of God of Irenaeus, Augustine, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. The philosophical analyses of Kant and of Paul Ricoeur on evil and on hope were used as a resource for systematic theological and ethical reflection.
The second short paper session included Mr. Entoni Šeperić (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb), “Prospects for an Ethic of Principled Moral Outrage”; Ms. Shiva Hemmati (Malaya University), “The Problem of Evil in Islam”; Dr. Ville Päivänsalo (University of Helsinki), “Health Disasters in Syria and beyond: Humanitarian and Negotiated Responses on the Outskirts of Evil”; Dr. Jeffrey Bishop (Saint Louis University – Center for Health Care Ethics), “Bureaucratic Proceduralism and the Problem of Evil”; Dr. Segalerba Gianluigi (ACPC – Austrian Center of Philosophy with Children and Youth, Graz), “The Monster Within Us: Notes on Plato's Moral Psychology”; Mr. Elis Simson (Koc University), “Cain’s Sober Coldness: Levinas’ Approach to the Problem of Evil”; Kathryn Bouvet (University of Vienna) “Starre Identität als Ursprung des Bösen”; Gunther Barth (University of Erlangen-Nürnberg), “Überwindung des Bösen. Wie der Mensch antwortet, wenn er vernimmt, was nicht gut ist”; Dr. Kevin Jung (Wake Forest University, USA), “Radical Evil and the Weakness of the Will”; Dr. Martin Stickler (Trinity College Dublin, Irish Research Council postdoc), “Evil as a Distortion of Communication.”
After the lunch a special panel on the Greek economic crisis took place, where different perspectives were presented by Dr. Michalis Zoumboulakis (Professor and President of the Faculty of Economic Studies, University of Thessalia), “The Greek Financial Crisis: An Economic Point of View”; Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies), “The Greek Financial Crisis: A Theological Point of View”; Rev. Meletis Meletiadis (Pastor of the Greek Evangelical Church of Volos, Moderator of the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Church of Greece), “Refugee Crisis and the Work of the Greek Protestant Church”; Alexandros Katsakioris (Lawyer, NGO Arsis), “The NGO Arsis and its Educational Work for the Unaccompanied Refugee Children.”
The conference continued with the third short paper session, where speakers included: Dr. Pavle Mijovic (Catholic Faculty of Theology – University of Sarajevo), “The Refugee Crisis as an Indicator of the Institutional Deficiencies of the European Union”; Mrs. Taina Kalliokoski and Mrs. Marianna Saartio-Itkonen (University of Helsinki), “Collective Evil, Evil Collective?: Challenged Categories of Evil in the Finnish Contemporary Refugee Debate”; Dr. Silvija Migles (Catholic Faculty of Theology, University of Zagreb), “Social Evil Threatens the Integral Development of the Human Person and of Human Society”; Dr. Matthew Bagot (Spring Hill College), “When Persons Fail to Flourish: Christian Smith and Luigi Sturzo on the Personal and Social-Structural Roots of the Evil of War”; Dr. Huub Flohr (Fontys Hogeschool Theologie en Levensbeschouwing), “Structures of Sin”; Michael R. Fisher Jr. (Vanderbilt University), “Resident Evil: The Structural Violence of Neoliberal Urban Redevelopment in the United States”; Prof Ronnie Hjorth, (Swedish Defense University), “Political Decay and Political Arcadianism”; Ms. Urška Lampret (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Theology, Ph.D. student), “The Community Revolution in Slovenia as a Crime Against Humanity.”
At the third keynote session, Prof. Stelios Virvidakis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens) spoke on “Evil as a Problem for Moral Philosophy” where he argued that moral philosophers are supposed to seek criteria of rightness and wrongness of actions, as well as of goodness and badness of characters of agents and of states of affairs aimed at and brought about. The concept of evil usually refers to particular, extreme kinds of badness, the study of which is essential for a deeper understanding of the limits and the failures of ethics. His paper focused on an analysis of aspects of moral evil, involving wickedness, cruelty and atrocity, with a view to discussing different explanations of their roots and origins, which moral philosophy has to take into account in the pursuit of its practical goals.
The second day of the conference concluded with the General Assembly of the Societas Ethica.
On August 26, the fourth keynote session was addressed by Prof. Antje Kapust (in abstentia) on the “Meanings of Evil: the Response of Responsibility.” In her paper she argued that moral participants of a moral community have to give account of various difficulties while analysing the many forms of a malum morale. In this line, she asked few relative questions, with reference to a status of evil: do we have to deal with evil as “counter-concept”, as “selection-term”, as concept of normalisation, as notion of compromise or as concept of compensation? How do we morally reflect its appearances (evil in its lateral, vertical, regressive, suspensive, multiplicative or instrumental forms)? Which language games are providing frames for various forms of evil: speech act, activities of parole, semantics, contextual reference, narrative patterns or symbols of evil? By addressing all these questions, the lecture attempted to present a responsive theory of evil and indicated some of the necessary concepts in systematic, meta-ethical and normative regards.
The fourth short paper session included Dr. Raphaela Meyer zu Hörste-Bührer (Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz), “Die Gewalt der Ethik? Ein theologischer Versuch zur Frage nach der Ausübung und Legitimation struktureller Gewalt durch die Ethik“; Prof. Svend Anderson (Aarhus University), “Demonic Evil in Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Løgstrup”; Prof. Elena Namli (Uppsala University), “Cosmopolitanism, Sovereignty, and Human Rights: In Defense of Critical Universalism”; Ms. Madelene Persson (Uppsala University), “Exclusive Human Rights? The Insider/Outsider Paradox”; Dr. Zorica Maros (Catholic Theological Faculty at Sarajevo), “The Loss of Moral Control: A Socio-Theological Approach to the Evil of Violence”; Dr. Björn Freter, “An Attempt to Rehabilitate the Normative Category of Evil in Political Discourse: On the Phenomenology of Evil and its Application to Donald Trump”; Ms. Ysabel Johnston (Saint Louis University – SLU), “Body Image, Identification and the Embodiments of Evil”; Dr. Ross W. Bellaby (University of Sheffield), “Hackers for Justice or Vigilantes with No Restraint?”.
The fifth keynote session was addressed by Dr. Mahmoud Masaeli (University of Ottawa, President of “Alternative Perspectives and Global Concerns”), who spoke on “Response of Sufism to the Evil of Terrorism”, where he argued that the recent wave of so-called Islamic terrorism has raised many question as to how to defeat this ideologically jihadist evil. The mainstream perspective in western policy assumes that Islam is ideologically violent and that it therefore takes security measures to defeat this evil. This perspective ignores the potentials that exist within Islam against the violent (Salafi/Wahhabi) reading of the faith. His paper aimed to explore the very potential from Islamic mysticism to counter terrorism, by arguing that from a Sufi perspective, the main message of faith is to attain a mystical experience of Oneness that in the end reunites the spirit of the believer with God. According to the speaker, whoever denies this mystical experience (the jihadists), and embarks on terrorizing others, according to Qur’an, “are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless. They are ignorant”.
The third day of the conference concluded with an interest group on the “future of ethics,” and an excursion to the village of Makrinitsa in Pelion Mountain. The same evening the participants of the Conference took part to a pilgrimage to the martyric village Drakeia, in Pelion, where, in December 1943, the Nazis executed 118 male adults, in retaliation for the death of two German soldiers.
On Sunday August 27, and after the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the final keynote session was addressed by Dr. David Gushee (Society of Christian Ethics), who spoke on “What America’s White Evangelicals Just Did: A Christian Ethical Analysis of the Evils Involved in the Election of Donald Trump”. In his lecture he argued that no single group of American voters supported Donald Trump for president at a higher rate than white evangelical Christians, at 81 percent. They did so despite Mr. Trump’s manifest violations of Christian personal morality and his barely nominal Christianity. The lecture offered ten reasons as to what attracted so many theologically conservative white Protestants to support Trump: his security promises, economic promises, nostalgic nationalism, Christian tribalism, Supreme Court promises, exaggerated masculinity, authoritarianism, wealth and celebrity, attacks on “political correctness,” and thinly veiled racism. The paper concluded by suggesting that the continued strong support for the new president from many visible evangelicals is contributing to a further diminution of evangelical moral credibility and loss of many Christians from evangelicalism, and demands resistant dissent on many fronts. David Wellman (DePaul University), gave a brief response to the main speaker.
The Conference concluded with a brief address by Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, a present exchange and a farewell note by the President of Societas Ethica where she warmly thanked all the members of Volos Academy for the successful organization of the consultation, referring to possible future venues of cooperation between the two institutions.
The conference was sponsored by Renovabis, the Charitable organization of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany.
* Photos of the Conference courtesy by Dr. Jan Jans.