Conference Working Group Recommendations

J. Perl, C Geertz, S Nusseibeh, C Walker Bynum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The membership of the advisory board for Common Knowledge initiatives is listed in the article preceding this statement, and the formation and general aims of the board are described there. In May 2005, a subgroup—along with three editors of the journal and a representative of the publisher—met at Skidmore College in New York for two days of discussion, hosted by the college president. The meeting was sponsored by Skidmore, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships Foundation, and the Fohs Foundation. This working group has now agreed on a set of recommendations for submission to the full advisory board and to Duke University Press. Our view is that the journal's irenic approach to the culture of scholarship is unique and that Common Knowledge, rather than being its sole expression, should find means of extending it to the scholarly world in new formats. Most journals of intellectual ambition have been offshoots of existing circles. Common Knowledge has sought to form a new kind of community—one that crosses the boundaries of school and field—around commitment to an uncommon principle. The humanists and human scientists associated with this journal hold that the deflation of dispute and the facilitation of peace should be primary considerations of scholarship. And this approach, we believe, entails direct personal interaction. [End Page 13] We therefore recommend that Common Knowledge arrange meetings—conferences, ongoing workshops, lecture series, and "master classes"—at which this principle can be developed. Common Knowledge editorial board members, editors, and authors should meet regularly with scholars who have not been associated with the journal, especially with humanists of the younger generation and from regions in which conflict is intense. These meetings should evaluate the contribution that existing scholarly methods can make to the achievement and maintenance of peace. The methodologies that have characterized the material published in Common Knowledge are those that, at least initially, we would encourage. These are methods that foster self-awareness and self-criticism; purposely demythologize the scholar's own collection of beliefs; evade engagement in polemic; enable views of the past resistant to easy moral judgments; employ the techniques of microhistory to discourage tendentious abridgements and synopses of intricate situations; reconsider irreconcilable truth-claims in the context of misunderstandings, mistranslations, and other contingencies that generate and perpetuate animosity; expose irenic tendencies and ambivalences in circumstances where pure hostility is expected; and deprive present-day conflicts of genealogy by identifying retrojections of current antagonisms into the past. At some meetings, methodology should be a topic of theoretical discussion and, at others, questions of method should be raised with respect to papers on conflicts of urgent personal concern to all participants. In addition, we recommend as an experiment that groups of intellectuals from single areas of conflict be invited to discuss papers dealing with enmities in regions other than their own. Palestinians and Israelis, for instance, might meet to hear and review papers on the problems of Northern Ireland. Participants would be asked to consider the enabling or discouraging of peace as a criterion for evaluating scholarly methods. Would this paper we have just heard, they could ask, contribute to the achievement of mutual understanding and respect on the part of the adversaries with whose disputes it deals? Asking this and related questions with respect to enmities in which they are not themselves directly involved may, we hope, help prepare intellectuals at odds with each other to discuss in useful ways the conflicts that affect their own lives. It is our hope that scholars attending any of the varieties of meeting that Common Knowledge will arrange may come to identify with their methodological commitments as much as or, eventually, more than with their national allegiances and partisan aims. At the Skidmore meeting, we began to establish relationships with colleges and other institutions interested in hosting conferences and workshops arranged by Common Knowledge. In support of this extension of the journal's work, we recommend that funds be sought to produce an...
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)13-15
JournalCommon Knowledge
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006


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