By Matters India reporter
Beijing: The largest gathering of philosophers concluded in Beijing on August 20 after studying the theme Learning to be Human for eight days from every perspective.
More than 8,000 scholars from nearly every country in the world attended the event under the guidance of 120-year-old Peking University.
The first item in the 24th Congress of World Philosophy in a nation professedly guided by an ideology of ‘Dialectical Materialism’ was a discourse on “Spirituality.”
Chen Baosheng, the Minister of Education, welcomed the delegates and stressed the importance of bringing vision and depth to international thought and relationships. He spoke at the opening in the Great Hall of the People where more than 10,000 people were present.
The president of the Organizing Committee, Li Jianhua of Peking University, welcomed the delegates. He said, philosophic bondedness has taken a mighty step forward from the first International Congress of Philosophy held in Paris in 1900, which was attended by Bertrand Russell.
Dermot Moran, the president of the Congress, referred to the most important events of recent years: congresses at Amsterdam 1948, Brussels 1953, Venice 1958, Mexico 1963, Vienna 1968, Montreal 1983, Brighton 1988, Moscow 1993, Boston 1998, Istanbul 2003, Seoul 2008, Athens 2013. But he rejoiced that the Beijing gathering of scholars was the biggest of all these.
The event was to be held in Peking University, but was hastily shifted to the National Convention Centre when the number of applicants for the Conference went far beyond all expectations, the organizers said. Congress held dozens of ‘Round Tables’ and ‘Parallel Sessions’ on diverse topics. The participants could join any group according each one’s interest or competence.
Topics of current relevance would be themes like science, political philosophy, populism, clash of political interests. Those that enjoyed special prominence were Confucianism, Buddhism, Greek and Medieval philosophies. It also had sessions on the emergence of regional schools of philosophy in Latin America, South Asia, China, Africa and other parts of the world. Some groups specialized on individual philosophers of stature like Schopenhauer or Kierkegaard.
The Indian Council for Philosophical Research sponsored a number of sessions on Indian philosophical thought, Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence, and others. More than 70 Indian delegates took active part in vibrant discussions.
Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, who was present at the Congress, addressed three Parallel Sessions: Eastern and Western Cultures, comparison between Chinese and Christian thought, and ‘Being Human and Helping Others to Remain Human when Inhuman Situations Arise.’ He spoke of conflict, tensions, violence and hatred prevailing in many parts of the world today; and situations where an ‘impersonal economy’ leads people to inhuman living conditions.
“If you have a message to give, it must come alive in situations where people are reduced to being less than human,” the Salesian prelate insisted. “And such situations are multiplying,” he added.
In the General Assembly some speakers referred to spirituality, religion, and the Christian message. Hans Julius Schneider spoke of the present day secularization and compared it to Christ’s cry on the cross “My God, my God, why hast Thou forgotten me?” He argued that if much of society is in this state mind today, there will surely will follow a moment when it can go on further to say, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit, making a supreme act of faith.”
Religious themes found their way even at the concluding session through several speakers. Tu Weiming, a great scholar, held out “Spiritual Humanism” as world-ethos for global business.
Tu would go further, “The grammar of theism strikes a sympathetic resonance in Spiritual Humanism. Sacred places (cathedrals, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues), hymns, songs, prayers, dances, festivals are beyond pretensions to scientific, philosophical or theological control. All great theistic religions have spiritual resources and intellectual depths to inspire us to sing songs of hope and express our gratitude to divine love. They have made profound contributions to human religiosity.”