The theme of this years meeting was Empathies: an unusual and collective form of what is increasingly becoming a catch-all term for ethical engagement in literary studies. Unsurprisingly, then, this topic generated a wide range of responses straddling not only many academic disciplines, but also various definitions of empathetic response.
I presented at both the conference proper and at one of a series of associated workshops for doctoral and postdoctoral researchers which took place on 20 June. The latter group of events were divided into interdisciplinary themes; my groups title was Empathy and Ethics at the End of Life: Perspectives from the Medical Humanities, and we were lucky to have an assortment of great guest speakers throughout the day (Ivan Callus, Marion Coutts, Anne Hudson Jones and Seamus OMahoney). While a few of the early career researchers papers seemed firmly situated in hard sciences or sociology, readings and discussions from the aforementioned authors promoted the importance of literary studies and literariness in exploring medical issues, particularly mortality.
With keynotes from neuroscientist Jean Decety, philosopher of mind Jesse Prinz, and bioethicist Jackie Leach Scully, Empathies retained biology and corporeality as primary avenues of discussion. Special guest Denise Riley performed a lecture-turned-poetry-reading on expressing fellow-feeling following a death, arguing that we should rethink our epithets an important reminder of empathys inextricable origins in sympathies. Particularly interesting, too, was the range of responses from critical animal studies scholars and a surge of interest in interspecies interactions. (Many were pleased about the wealth of vegan options at the conference dinner!) Thank you to both the Leeds Faculty of Arts and SLSAeu for funding my trip to Switzerland; I am very grateful to have exchanged ideas with so many ethically-minded individuals, and look forward to developing new collaborations.
Caitlin Stobie, School of English
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