Symposium on The Sacredness of the Person

May 14, 2014
Swift Hall, 3rd Floor Lecture
1025 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Michael GeyerUniversity of Chicago

Hans JoasUniversity of Chicago

John D. KellyUniversity of Chicago

Ben LaurenceUniversity of Chicago

William SchweikerUniversity of Chicago Divinity School

Michael Geyer (University of Chicago), Moderator
Hans Joas (University of Chicago)
John D. Kelly (University of Chicago)
Ben Laurence (University of Chicago)
William Schweiker (University of Chicago)

cosponsored by the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago


This symposium will discuss The Sacredness of the Person, a recent book by Professor Hans Joas.

What are the origins of the idea of human rights and universal human dignity? How can we most fully understand—and realize—these rights going into the future? In The Sacredness of the Person, internationally renowned sociologist and social theorist Hans Joas tells a story that differs from conventional narratives by tracing the concept of human rights back to the Judeo-Christian tradition or, alternately, to the secular French Enlightenment. While drawing on sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, Joas sets out a new path, proposing an affirmative genealogy in which human rights are the result of a process of “sacralization” of every human being.

Michael Geyer is the Samuel N. Harper Professor Emeritus of German and European History and Faculty Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. His research interests include the place of human rights in early constitutionalism, the question of humanitarianism and equality, and contemporary human rights law. He has written numerous articles on these topics and is co-editor of Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, Resistance against the Third Reich, 1933-1990, and War and Terror in Contemporary and Historical Perspective.

Hans Joas is the Ernst Troeltsch Professor for the Sociology of Religion at Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, and a member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D. from Freie Universität Berlin in 1979 (G. H. Mead: A Contemporary Re-examination of His Thought, MIT Press, 1985, 1997). Among his many prizes and awards are the Niklas Luhmann Prize in 2010; in 2012, an honorary doctorate in Theology from Universität Tübingen; in 2013, an honorary doctorate in Sociology from Uppsala University and the Hans Kilian Award; in 2015, the Max Planck Research Award; in 2017 the Prix Paul Ricoeur, in 2018 the Theological Prize Salzburg and in 2022 the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award of the German Sociological Association. .
Among his other books in English are Pragmatism and Social Theory 1993; The Creativity of Action 1996; The Genesis of Values 2000; War and Modernity 2003; Do We Need Religion? On Experiences of Self-Transcendence 2008; The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights 2013; Faith as an Option: Possible Futures for Christianity 2014. Together with Wolfgang Knoebl he published Social Theory 2009 and War in Social Thought: Hobbes to the Present 2013. Together with Robert Bellah he edited The Axial Age and Its Consequences 2011.

John D. Kelly is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on Fiji and India, on topics including ritual in history, knowledge and power, semiotic and military technologies, colonialism and capitalism, decolonization and diasporas. His most recent book, Represented Communities: Fiji and World Decolonization, co-written with Martha Kaplan, concerns the constituting of nation-states out of empires. He is currently working on two other books: Laws Like Bullets, and Technography: Sciences in the History of Cultures.

Ben Laurence is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. He works in the areas of ethics and political philosophy with interest in the philosophy of action and human rights, focusing on defending the project of ideal theory, the attempt to provide an account of the ideal or fully just political community. He is currently exploring the ways in which certain strands of Liberalism are in tension with this project. He is author of “An AnsCombean Approach to Collective Action” in Anscombe’s Intention.

William Schweiker is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He holds an MDiv from Duke University and a PhD from the University of Chicago, His scholarship and teaching engage theological and ethical questions attentive to global dynamics, comparative religious ethics, the history of ethics, and hermeneutical philosophy. His many books include Religion and the Human Future: An Essay in Theological Humanism (2008, with David E. Klemm); Dust that Breathes: Christian Faith and the New Humanisms (2010); and Religious Ethics: Meaning and Method (2020, with David Clairmont). He has published numerous articles and award-winning essays, as well as edited and contributed to six volumes, including Humanity Before God: Contemporary Faces of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Ethics  and was chief editor and contributor to A Companion to Religious Ethics, a comprehensive and innovative work in the field of comparative religious ethics.