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Compassion, a Timely Feeling

The inaugural University of New England History of Emotions Conference

Image: Master of Rabenden, Vesperbild (Pietà), c. 1515–1520, Wikimedia Commons

Date: 24–26 October 2019 
Venue: University of New England, Armidale
Enquiries: emotions@une.edu.au
Call for Paper Deadline: 14 September 2019
Register: There will be no registration fees. 
Program: Conventional papers and keynotes on Thursday 24 October and Friday 25 October, and a field trip on Saturday 26 October.
Accommodation: to be arranged by participants.
Travel Bursaries: A limited number of travel bursaries are available for unwaged, ECR or postgraduates sponsored by the Faculty of HASSE, UNE, and the Monash Climate Change Communication Hub (for more details see the conference website).

For updates and other useful information please consult the conference website.

Visit the Conference Website 


Keynote speakers

  • Professor Steven Mentz (St Johns University, USA)
  • A/Prof Katie Barclay (University of Adelaide)

In today’s world, divided as it is, by diametrically-opposed attitudes towards policed and regulated border control, violent inter-religious intolerance and impending ecological disaster, it is time to turn our minds to compassion. At its root compassion is a social emotion. It involves fellow feeling, and as such it is a passion that binds people together. Stoics and neostoics question the efficacy of compassion, conceived as pity, arguing that it stymies the potential for necessary transformative social action (Justus Lipsius). While on the one hand the concept of compassion as feeling with others suggests an egalitarian ideal, on the other, pity or feeling for others can imply a hierarchy. For Lauren Berlant (2004), for example, the relation between the one feeling, empathizing, sympathizing, or pitying and the object of those feelings involves inequality. Others note that inevitably gender, race, class and power shape the experience and expression, of compassion. In popular discourse compassion is often viewed as intrinsically feminine, even maternal. In the humanities, compassion and related concepts empathy, sympathy or simply fellow-feeling, have long been associated with questions about what it means to be human and/or what it means to be a member of a community.

Compassion is a collective emotion often held up as a key attribute of an ideal possible society. As such it is associated with discourses that model social worlds for example, social or political movements, political theory, moral philosophy and certain literary genres. What role does compassion play in specific social, learned or institutional contexts? How is it deployed to move readers, citizens, the public, a congregation, or a theatre audience for example? How is it mediated, shared, transformed and put to work? And what positive, if any, can come from thinking about compassion once again? This event will underscore how we can better understand the workings of compassion through interdisciplinary research.

The program committee would like to invite participants to consider compassion as a lens through which to view a range of discipline-specific topics, with a view to establishing fresh grounds for a wide-ranging interdisciplinary conversation. The aim is to publish selected papers in a special journal issue or edited collection.

Please forward 200-word abstracts for 20-25-minute papers, or proposals for themed panels of 3 papers, and brief 150-word participant bios to emotions@une.edu.au by 14 September 2019.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Compassion and climate change
  • Compassion and care
  • Reviewing the past with compassion
  • Discourses, forms or rhetorics of compassion
  • Rituals of compassion, ritualized compassion
  • Histories of compassion, case studies of compassion
  • Compassion vs hate, terror, and/or other modes of disaffection
  • Compassion and social justice
  • Compassion in art, music, literature, philosophy and/or theatre
  • Compassion and the culture wars
  • Gendering compassion, class and compassion, race and compassion, citizenship and compassion
  • Compassion and non-humans