Personalist seminar at WCU draws international participation

The 10th Biennial Personalist Seminar held at Western Carolina University Aug. 11-15 attracted about two dozen participants who came not only from universities across the United States but also from Denmark and South Africa.

Personalism is a philosophical, political, and theological position found in most of the world’s religious traditions. A basic tenet of personalism is that the person is sacred and must be the starting point of reflection and value.

The seminar’s program centered on the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr., with separate days devoted to different aspects of their work. Jennifer McBride, Board of Regents Endowed Chair in Ethics at Wartburg College, led the discussion on Bonhoeffer, and Greg Moses of Texas State University led the section on King. Also, Jonas Mortensen of the Danish Christian Democratic Party discussed the continued influence of King and personalism on Danish political ideals.

This was the 10th seminar to be held at WCU. The event, often dubbed “Personalist Summer Camp” and “Personalist Boot Camp” by participants, has been organized in alternate years by James McLachlan of WCU’s Department of Philosophy and Religion, Thomas O. Buford of Furman University and Randall K. Auxier of Southern Illinois University.

Past seminars have focused on such thinkers as Borden Parker Bowne, William Ernst Hocking, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Levinas and Henri Bergson. Seminar participants have included, among others, Erazhim Kohak from Boston University and the Charles University of Prague; Robert Neville, dean emeritus of the Boston University School of Theology; Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of religion at Columbia University; and John Lachs, Centennial Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

Planning is currently underway for the seminar’s 11th meeting at WCU in 2016. The subject will be Hindu Personalism. Kenneth Valpey, a fellow of the Oxford University Centre for Hindu Studies, has expressed interest in leading the discussion.