Call for Papers

12th Residency Conference

Union Institute & University’s Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies


Sources, Meanings, Responses

Ryan Scacci, Screen Hunter, Oil on canvas, 2002

Cincinnati, Ohio

January 4, 2012

Attention à la souffrance d’autrui qui, à travers les cruautés de notre siècle–malgré ces cruautés, à cause de ces cruautés–, peut s’affirmer comme le nœud même de la subjectivité humaine au point de se trouver élevée en un suprême principe éthique–le seul qu’il ne soit pas possible de contester–et jusqu’à commander les espoirs et la discipline pratiques de vastes groupements humains.

It is this attention to the Other which, across the cruelties of our century–despite these cruelties, because of these cruelties–can be affirmed as the very bond of human subjectivity, even to the point of being raised to a supreme ethical principle–the only one which it is not possible to contest–a principle which can go so far as to command the hopes and practical discipline of vast human groups.

Emmanuel Levinas, “La Souffrance inutile” / “Useless Suffering” (1982)

[S]uffering has a use; it helps push away the old skin, surely not empathically flexible enough, still clinging to our ankles.

Alice Walker, The Same River Twice (1996)

Since ancient times, philosophers, theologians, politicians, poets, and scientists have debated the sources and meanings of suffering and struggled to offer appropriate responses to the varied physical and mental pains of life. In the wake of World War II, the Holocaust, decolonization, numerous civil rights movements and the attendant rise of identity politics, suffering – in all its known and (as of yet) unacknowledged manifestations–has once again emerged as a topic of serious inquiry by a wide spectrum of scholars from the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences and legal studies.

Not surprisingly, the bibliographical database WorldCat lists over 4,100 English-language books published within the past two decades that feature the term ‘suffering’ in the title. These include sociological surveys such as Pierre Bordieu’s The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society (1998), historical examinations such as Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering (2008), religious studies such as Judith Perkins’ The Suffering Self (1995), philosophical inquiries such as Asma Abbas’ Liberalism and Human Suffering (2010), cultural studies works such as Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry: Reflection on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2000), personal reflections such as Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker’s On the Meaning of Suffering and the Mystery of Joy (1998), collections of poetry such as Don Singer’s Pain Suffering Hope (2005), and health care treatises such as Eric Cassell’s The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine (1991).

Suffering is a constitutive force that calls us into being and creates us as subjects; it calls us into politics, into embodied registers of morality and ethics. For large parts of the global population, suffering is the dominant experience that structures their psychic and material life. But what is suffering, and how do we come to know and experience it? What meaning does it contribute to our experience, or conversely, what experience does it deprive us of? How are we to respond to our suffering(s) and the suffering(s) of others? How do we suffer the suffering of others? What is the work of suffering? “What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledging it,” as Susan Sontag asks in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)? In what ways can the humanities, leadership studies, and public policy studies contribute to our understanding of suffering? And in what ways is (or should) our scholarly approach to suffering be guided by notions of social justice, differences, and creativity?

For this installment of our conference series, we are inviting proposals for individual and panel presentation that explore these and other questions from a wide variety of perspectives. The following list of potential topics is suggestive rather than exclusive:

  • Collective suffering: Art and the politics of space
  • Suffering, justice, and reconciliation
  • The poetics of suffering
  • o Artistic/aesthetic suffering; suffering artists; the labor of creation; poetry and suffering
  • o Suffering and social protest in literature, media, and the arts
  • o Memoir, narrative, memory and trauma
  • Suffering, morality, and legal consciousness
  • The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Religion and redemption: Suffering in context
  • Suffering and agony
  • Existential suffering, precarious life, and physical pain
  • Symbiotic suffering
  • Cultural suffering
  • Ecological, animal, and non-human suffering
  • Social suffering: community and compassion
  • Suffering and self
  • Suffering, leadership, and action
  • Shapes of suffering
  • Public policy responses to suffering

Please join us!

Submission Guidelines

In addition to conference presentations that follow traditional models, we encourage individual and group submissions that showcase creative work and/or utilize alternative approaches such as roundtables, poster sessions, storytelling sessions, video installations, and art exhibits. The deadline for proposal submissions is November 10, 2011.

Please forward all proposals via email, c/o “Review and Organization Committee,” to Please include the following information:

  • Name
  • Institutional and/or program affiliation(s)
  • Mailing address (including zip code)
  • Phone number(s)
  • E-mail address
  • Title of the proposed presentation
  • Abstract of 200-500 words
  • AV equipment needs, if any
  • Special needs, if any

Panel or roundtable organizers should include the above information for each participant.


The conference will be held at the Kingsgate Marriott Conference Hotel at the University of Cincinnati. In order to receive the discounted rate of $89/night plus tax, please mention the Union Institute & University when making reservations.

Kingsgate Marriott Conference Hotel
151 Goodman Drive
Cincinnati, Ohio 45219



Presenters will have to confirm their conference participation within one week of receiving the acceptance notice. There is no registration fee. However, non-Union presenters wishing to attend the keynote dinner must make advance reservations at a charge of $25.


For all correspondence regarding submission and/or program content, contact Karsten Piep at

For information on lodging, accommodations and residency information, contact Residency Coordinator Caitlin Behle at


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