2014 Lewers Lecture: Hans Joas on Slavery and Torture in a Global Perspective: Human Rights and the Western Tradition


Location: 1130 Eck Hall

The 2014 Lewers Lecture will be presented by Hans Joas, Ernst Troeltsch Professor for the Sociology of Religion at the Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany and Professor of Sociology and a Member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He was the Director of the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt from 2002-2011, and served as the Vice-President of the International Sociological Association from 2006-2010. His publications include “The Genesis of Values” (University of Chicago, 2000), “The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights” (Georgetown University, 2013), "War in Social Thought. Hobbes to the Present", with W.Knoebl (Princeton University Press 2013), "Faith as an Option. Possible Futures for Christianity" (Stanford University Press 2014).
The abolition of torture in Europe in the eighteenth century and the abolition of slavery in the United States in the nineteenth century are considered to be among the most important chapters in the history of human rights. They are often mentioned as indicators of a cultural superiority of the West or of the Judeo-Christian or Enlightenment traditions. But why were slavery and torture for such a long time considered to be legitimate? Why did some of the most freedom-loving countries in the Northern Atlantic world systematize slavery, before they abolished it, in ways that went beyond all historical precedents? And what was the history of torture in the European colonies after its abolition in Europe? In his lecture Dr. Joas will probe the fragility of all progress in the direction of what he calls the "sacralization of the person."
The Lewers Lecture is given in honor of Fr. William Lewers, C.S.C., who passed in 1997 at Holy Cross House. Fr. Lewers was a member of the Notre Dame board of trustees in addition to being director of The Center for Civil & Human Rights from 1985 to 1997.