Articles from the October 1997 Unification News


PWPA Conference to be held at WCSF

by Dr. Gordon Anderson-St. Paul, MN

‘Identity and Character" will be the theme of the 7th International Congress of the Professors World Peace Academy which will be held in Washington, DC, November 24-29, 1997. This Congress is an official event of World Culture and Sports Festival III. Over 200 academics from 120 countries are expected to attend the discussions led by 40 experts on the topics.

The identity of individuals is rooted in relationships. We think of ourselves as "husband," "wife," "father," "mother," "child," "teacher," or "student" based on our relationship with other people. We identify ourselves as "artist," "salesperson," "farmer," "banker," or "truckdriver" based on the roles we fill in society. We identify people as "kind," "evil," "responsible," "just," and "brave" based on their past actions. We think of people as "liberal," "fundamentalist," "feminist," "Jewish," "Christian," "Buddhist," "German," or "Chinese" based on social groups or beliefs with which they identify. Without a sense of identity, we could make choices only in terms of advantage and gratification. Without some consistency in role identifications, it would not be possible to have stable expectations.

The rapid rate of cultural transformation in the twentieth century has brought us to the point where there is much confusion over identity. Traditional family roles are changing. Globalization prompts people to think of world citizenship as a higher calling than national patriotism. Genetic engineering and artificial body parts are changing understandings of what it means to be human. We have asked a number of experts to discuss the nature of identity and character, how one's understanding of one's "self" develops, examples of the development of character of men and women of influence in both history and literature, and how societies promote the development of identity and character. We have asked PWPA chapters throughout the world to provide information on identity and character in each of their societies.

Panel discussions

Panel 1 will look at the philosophical foundations of our understanding of character and identity. The classical philosophical paradigm of how one acquires knowledge had considerable sway even into the modern period. Because none of Hegel's successors could find a way to ground knowledge in the absence of the Absolute, we seemed to be left with only stories and the irrationalism of existentialism. Fortunately, these are not our only alternatives. There are connections in the stories and rational grounds for making at least loose comparative evaluations of them. The self is composed of identifications within culture.

Panel 2: Understanding how selves become morally and civically responsible requires some acquaintance with the underlying factors that generate character and personal identity. The social sciences-especially psychology, sociology, and anthropology-have developed a rich literature on the processes of personality formation. To be sure, theoretical approaches and empirical findings differ quite considerably relative to the factors influencing the development of selfhood, a fact made necessary by the very complexity of subtle interactions of personal biography, reference group attachments, institutional frameworks, and cultural value systems. The purpose of this panel is to address the dynamics of selfhood formation by attending to such factors as socialization: the input of familial, peer group, and institutional factors; the cultural definitions of a "healthy personality," civic responsibility, and a stable identity; and the influence of global trends on redefining individualism and moral rectitude. The papers are designed to provide an array to insights greened from interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and theoretical/empirical perspectives. The historical focus is firmly fixed, however, on the contemporary circumstance wherein global forces are reshaping the context in which personal identity and consciousness are being framed.

Panels 3 and 4: The ability to provide leadership of given kind, in a given period, in a given situation, is the result of the convergence of a number of strands. Intellectual acumen and personal moral virtue are prime elements, to be sure, but they are often the fruit, not only of individual effort but of community. Identity and character are achieved within a social context. One may create one's self, but largely out of materials available to oneself. Leadership is multiple in kind. It may be found in the intellectual order where the leader by virtue of training, insight and rhetorical skill is able to move others to action. "The pen is mightier than the sword" is not a recent dictum. Leadership may be exercised on the battlefield by a Napoleon, Nelson or Rommel. In the social order it may be exercised by charismatic figures such as Gandhi or Mother Theresa. In every case, the character of the leader is a worthy subject of analysis. Whence the identity of he who would command? What contributed to his manifest destiny? How much is due to the person, to the society, to circumstances? We look at a number of historical and literary figures, ancient and recent, to determine their intellectual and moral genesis, and the quality of their action for good or for ill.

Panel 5 will examine the crisis of identity in the contemporary world. An attempt will be made to see if the crisis in the sense of identity is related to the breakdown in accepted social roles and moral rules in favor of free-floating individual decision making. The sense of identity remained strong in contemporary modern America through World War II, even in the absence of traditional values. Was the seed of the contemporary development inevitably present in modernity or did it develop through a selection from among modern values, thus holding out hope for a reversal of trends, providing we understand the cause and provide appropriate leadership? The panelists will discuss the relation of individual to collective identity, contemporary identities in relation to ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and nation and the competition of these identities vis-a-vis the modern state.

The conference speakers and international delegates have been selected in advance. Qualified observers may register for the conference in advance for a fee of $25 plus the cost of meals that will be taken at the conference.

More information can be obtained from: Dr. Gordon Anderson, PWPA, 2700 West University Ave # 47, St Paul, MN 55114-1016

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