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Given the current state of religious affairs throughout the world, and the significant influence that it holds in socio-political discourse, this year’s topic is particularly apropos. Over and over again in popular media, we hear the voices of hatred, anger, and bitterness, which are all too often grounded in false prejudices and deeply entrenched misunderstandings. The unfortunate result is that the images painted by such stereotypes often serve as the impetus for negative characterizations, false depictions, and vehement repudiations of those traditions that one seeks to control, overcome, or destroy.

In the face of such conflict, we hope to provide a forum for safe and peaceful, yet critical and rigorous, reflection ― reflections that not only allow one to peer through the "pane" and only observe the strange, the

foreign, and the unknown, but also force one to face one’s own reflection, to stare at one’s self as an other, and identify those conceptions that need substantial re-shaping, re-forming, and re-visioning.

At the same time, we will want to maintain a dialectical stance, and explore questions like the following:

1. Are stereotypes and prejudices inherently negative and destructive?

2. Is it the case that they must always be approached in the spirit of breaking down, overcoming, and annihilation?

3. Must they inevitably lead to a sentiment of victimization?

4. Or, is it perhaps possible that they are inherently value laden?

5. Could it be the case that the desire to overcome all prejudice is in fact itself a self-destructive prejudice?

6. Is it possible that they provide profound contributions to and even shape human being-in-the-world? 

Therefore, in addition to wanting to repudiate false conceptions, and seeking to clarify misunderstandings, this year’s conference hopes to be dialectic in nature. Alongside the desire to discern the many troubling aspects of stereotypes and prejudices generally, and to break down confusions about the participating religious traditions specifically, will be a hope that the attendees will recognize the profound way in which these fore-structures of human understandings existentially shape identity, and can thus be viewed as productive and even necessary.

Simply put, we want to move beyond the discourse of negativity and victimization, and toward a discourse of reconciliation and hope. To this extent, the goal will not be the destruction of the other, and the shattering of one’s self-defining horizons, but will instead impel us to interface with the stranger and simultaneously face ourselves in a spirit of deep reflection and genuine transformation.


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