Conference Reports

The European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu), Basel, 21st-24th June 2017

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The theme of this year’s 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 group’s 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 O’Mahoney). 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 empathy’s 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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  1. Sixteenth Century Society Conference, Bruges, 18th-20th August 2016
  2. XVII EURALEX International Congress, 6th - 10th September 2016
  3. Eighth Rethymnon International Conference on the Ancient Novel, Rethymnon, 14th - 15th October 2016
  4. Native American Literature Symposium Minnesota, United States, 2nd - 4th March 2017
  5. Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association Joint National Conference, San Diego, 12th-15th April 2017
  6. The European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu), Basel, 21st-24th June 2017
  7. The American Comparative Literature Association 2017 Annual Meeting, Utrecht, 6th-9th July 2017