Monday, November 2, 2009

Comparative Civilizations in Japan - An Update

This autumn has been a busy time for Comparative Civilizations in Japan, with several conferences and other events taking place. On August 24-26, the Second International Conference on Moral Science was held at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, near Tokyo. Reitaku University has long been closely associated with the field of Comparative Civilizations, and was also the site of the 1998 Conference of the ISCSC. The founder of Reitaku University, Chikuro Hiroike (1866-1938), had a keen interest in comparative studies, especially as they related to ethics and morality across cultures. As such, it was only fitting that the ISCSC acted as a co-sponsor for the 2009 conference, which incidentally marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of Reitaku University. Among the presenters were two former Presidents of the ISCSC, as well as three former and current Vice-Presidents, meaning that the organization was represented in a manner befitting its close historical ties with Reitaku University.

The conference brought together scholars from almost a dozen countries to revisit the works of Chikuro Hiroike and to consider the current state of moral and character education in various parts of the world. The discussion included contributions from representatives from a large variety of disciplines, including philosophy, religious studies, history, and education, and smooth discourse was ensured by full simultaneous interpreting services in Japanese and English throughout the three days of the event. The presence of scholars involved directly in educational fields in regions as diverse as Japan, India, Burundi, the United Kingdom, and the United States made for an especially lively and memorable discussion, as the circumstances in different countries necessitate their own practical and theoretical approaches. The works of Chikuro Hiroike provided a suitable focus and reference point for channeling discussion, much of which centered on the necessity and relevance of such a trans-civilizational project and viewpoint in the current global age. The papers and proceedings from the 2009 conference are currently in the process of being revised by the contributors in light of the discussions that took place, and will hopefully be available early next year.

In addition to acting as a major sponsor for the Second International Conference on Moral Science, the ISCSC has also agreed to act as a co-sponsor for a symposium to be held at Reitaku University on November 14th to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Arnold J. Toynbee. The main organizer of this event is the Research Center for Comparative Civilizations and Cultures at Reitaku University, and central themes to be discussed in a series of presentations will be the idea of Toynbee as the “conscience of the twentieth century” and the continued relevance of his thought in the present day.

Another event in November will be the 27th annual conference of the Japan Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (JSCSC), to be held at Rikkyo University in Tokyo on the 28th and 29th of the month. The theme for this year’s conference is “From Exploitative Civilization to Refluxive Civilization.” Although a wide variety of sub-themes are included on the agenda, the central focus of this conference will be the reexamination of the “Modern Civilization” that has dominated the last five hundred years, and which has been argued to have a strong exploitative component with regard to its treatment of natural resources and the environment. Instead, some presenters will argue for the possibility of an alternative paradigm of a “Refluxive Civilization” that incorporates the increasing awareness of environmental concerns and the depletion of the planet’s resources.

Oleg Benesch

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