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Why humanist scholarship in an uncertain world


Rosanne Abdulla
Congress 2012 Correspondent

Even being bilingual, it is easy to forget the countless languages that exist around the world today. This morning, I had the pleasure of attending this week’s first meeting for the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German, which took place from 9:00 to 10:15 AM. John H. Smith delivered an eloquent and engaging presentation, entitled Why humanist scholarship in an uncertain world, followed by a passionate discussion. In retrospect, I realize that some knowledge of German would have been useful for me…however, being an outsider to both their language and culture actually allowed me to approach this event with a unique lens.

What really struck me was the fact that Smith wholeheartedly embraced the theme of Congress 2012, Scholarship for an uncertain world. It was obvious that he wished to present us with ideas that would be relevant, not only to the central theme for the week, but to our personal experiences, because we live in an uncertain world and are always looking for safety. Thus, he discussed many topics that affect all of us, including the quest to make sense of the world around us, the facilitation of change, the notion of truth, the fear of the unknown that motivates each of us to act (or often not to), and the importance of teaching students how to overcome anxiety so that they can succeed in the world.

In addition, Smith explained the necessity of challenging our identities once in a while and of questioning ourselves, but also of exploring where these questions lead, because each one can take us by a different route. He skillfully incorporated thought-provoking analogies, speaking for example about a GPS which, despite having the capacity to provide us with precise and exact directions, at the same time rids us of the freedom to find our own way.

During his presentation, Smith of course drew on the theories of German philosophers, such as Hegel (pictured), Goethe and many others. His incorporation of German quotes (which I’m sure were excellent) with his own thoughts and research created a dynamic dose of philosophy on a Sunday morning!

So, even though I arrived as a total outsider to the German world, I left with concepts applicable to my own life (as well as the desire to become trilingual!). During your journeys and your adventures this week, remember the place of uncertainty in the world today, especially the fact that when looking for certainty, we only become more uncertain.

Image courtesy of quapan on Flickr.

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