Conference Working Group Recommendations

Caroline Walker Bynum; Clifford Geertz; Sari Nusseibeh ; Robert Weisbuch; Israel J. Yuval
with Philip Glotzbach, Alick Isaacs, Lawrence Jones, Cason Lynley, Jeffrey M. Perl 

The membership of the advisory board for Common Knowledge initiatives is listed in the article preceding this statement, and the formation and general aims of the board are described there. In May 2005, a subgroup — along with three editors of the journal and a representative of the publisher — met at Skidmore College in New York for two days of discussion, hosted by the college president. The meeting was sponsored by Skidmore, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships Foundation, and the Fohs Foundation. This working group has now agreed on a set of recommendations for submission to the full advisory board and to Duke University Press.

Our view is that the journal's irenic approach to the culture of scholarship is unique and that Common Knowledge, rather than being its sole expression, should find means of extending it to the scholarly world in new formats. Most journals of intellectual ambition have been offshoots of existing circles. Common Knowledge has sought to form a new kind of community — one that crosses the boundaries of school and field — around commitment to an uncommon principle. The humanists and human scientists associated with this journal hold that the deflation of dispute and the facilitation of peace should be primary considerations of scholarship. And this approach, we believe, entails direct personal interaction.

We therefore recommend that Common Knowledge arrange meetings—conferences, ongoing workshops, lecture series, and "master classes"—at which this principle can be developed. Common Knowledge editorial board members, editors, and authors should meet regularly with scholars who have not been associated with the journal, especially with humanists of the younger generation and from regions in which conflict is intense. These meetings should evaluate the contribution that existing scholarly methods can make to the achievement and maintenance of peace. The methodologies that have characterized the material published in Common Knowledge are those that, at least initially, we would encourage. These are methods that foster self-awareness and self-criticism; purposely demythologize the scholar's own collection of beliefs; evade engagement in polemic; enable views of the past resistant to easy moral judgments; employ the techniques of microhistory to discourage tendentious abridgements and synopses of intricate situations; reconsider irreconcilable truth-claims in the context of misunderstandings, mistranslations, and other contingencies that generate and perpetuate animosity; expose irenic tendencies and ambivalences in circumstances where pure hostility is expected; and deprive present-day conflicts of genealogy by identifying retrojections of current antagonisms into the past.

At some meetings, methodology should be a topic of theoretical discussion and, at others, questions of method should be raised with respect to papers on conflicts of urgent personal concern to all participants. In addition, we recommend as an experiment that groups of intellectuals from single areas of conflict be invited to discuss papers dealing with enmities in regions other than their own. Palestinians and Israelis, for instance, might meet to hear and review papers on the problems of Northern Ireland. Participants would be asked to consider the enabling or discouraging of peace as a criterion for evaluating scholarly methods. Would this paper we have just heard, they could ask, contribute to the achievement of mutual understanding and respect on the part of the adversaries with whose disputes it deals? Asking this and related questions with respect to enmities in which they are not themselves directly involved may, we hope, help prepare intellectuals at odds with each other to discuss in useful ways the conflicts that affect their own lives. It is our hope that scholars attending any of the varieties of meeting that Common Knowledge will arrange may come to identify with their methodological commitments as much as or, eventually, more than with their national allegiances and partisan aims.

At the Skidmore meeting, we began to establish relationships with colleges and other institutions interested in hosting conferences and workshops arranged by Common Knowledge. In support of this extension of the journal's work, we recommend that funds be sought to produce an annual edition of the journal in Arabic and to distribute it free of charge to relevant academics, artists, and journalists. We advise that the first Arabic edition collect articles from the first twelve volumes of Common Knowledge and particularly from symposia of special interest to this new readership (symposia such as "Peace and Mind," "Imperial Trauma," "Neo-Stoic Alternatives," and "Talking Peace with Gods"). Through distribution of this anthology and the annual edition, we hope to encourage readers of Arabic to contribute to the journal and participate in its meetings. The contributors to and readers of Common Knowledge have always been an international group but, in our opinion, the journal should strive by whatever means to become progressively more inclusive.

Caroline Walker Bynum, formerly a MacArthur Fellow, is professor of medieval European history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and University Professor Emerita at Columbia. Her books include Jesus as Mother; Holy Feast and Holy Fast; Fragmentation and Redemption; Metamorphosis and Identity; and The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336.

Clifford Geertz's books—which include The Interpretation of Cultures, Works and Lives, Local Knowledge, After the Fact, Available Light, Islam Observed, Negara, The Religion of Java, and Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society—have received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize, and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Sociological Association, the Association for Asian Studies, and the Royal Anthropological Institute. He is Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Sari Nusseibeh, currently the Rita E. Hauser Fellow in Philosophy at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, has been president of Al-Quds University since 1995 and holds the UNESCO Chair in Freedom of Expression there. He is cofounder, with former Israeli security chief Ami Ayalon, of the People's Voice, an initiative to organize support for a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among many other prizes, he has received the Four Freedoms Award of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the Terni San Valentino Peace Award, and, most recently, he has shared the Catalonia International Prize with the Israeli novelist Amos Oz.

Robert Weisbuch, until recently president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships Foundation, is now president of Drew University. He taught English literature for twenty-five years at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is the author of Emily Dickinson's Poetry and Atlantic Double Cross.

Israel J. Yuval is director of the Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies, Backenroth Senior Lecturer in Medieval Jewish Studies, and professor of Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written extensively in Hebrew on Ashkenazic attitudes toward Christianity in the Middle Ages. His books include Scholars in Their Time and Two Nations in Your Womb.

Philip Glotzbach has been president of Skidmore College since 2003. A philosopher of language and psychology, he formerly chaired the executive board of the American Conference of Academic Deans.

Alick Isaacs teaches medieval history and Jewish history at the Hebrew University and is a research fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is associate editor of Common Knowledge for history, religion, and special projects and currently is writing a book about prophecy.

Lawrence Jones is a mutual funds analyst at Morningstar in Chicago and associate editor for research of Common Knowledge.

Cason Lynley is assistant manager of the journals marketing department at Duke University Press.

Jeffrey M. Perl, the author of Skepticism and Modern Enmity, The Tradition of Return: The Implicit History of Modern Literature, and monographs on Friedrich Schlegel, Mallarmé, and T. S. Eliot, taught for many years at Columbia University and at the University of Texas and is now professor of English literature at Bar-Ilan University. He is the founder and editor of Common Knowledge.

in: Common Knowledge 12.1 (2006) 13-15; Copyright © 2006 by Duke University Press. All rights reserved.

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