The Problem of Evil and Images of (In)Humanity – University of Copenhagen

English > Events > 2016 > The Problem of Evil an...

The Problem of Evil and Images of (In)Humanity

Workshop and PhD course, organized by Claudia Welz

Co-funded by the PhD School of the Faculty of Humanities and the PhD School of the Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen


This cross-disciplinary workshop and PhD course addresses the problem of evil and the ensuing challenge of re-orientation after catastrophic crises: violent conflicts, wars, and genocide. The aim of the workshop is to explore the potential of imagination as a means of ethical re-orientation and societal integration in the aftermath of atrocity. Given that people can treat their fellow human beings with disrespect and even as if they were sub-human, the question is: What mental, linguistic or graphic images of humanity can yield navigational tools and norms of orientation?

We will focus on the overt or covert normativity of images of humanity or inhumanity in a pluri-religious, multi-cultural, and multi-media context. Competing world views and conceptions of the human being will be considered when contrapositioning different ideas of ’humanity’ and ’inhumanity.’

Images have the power to move those who perceive or conceive them. How do images that depict our common humanity differ from counter-images that distort the image of ’the other’? And, more generally, how can destructive images be differentiated from healing images in terms of how they interact with their beholders? Of special interest are differences regarding their pragmatics, their functioning and effects: What are the ways in which they appear to and affect their viewers?

Such questions will be discussed in a dialogue between literary and visual studies, philosophy, psychology, theology, theories of emotion and recognition, and the classic exegetical, historical, and systematic disciplines comprised by the umbrella term ’Jewish Studies.’

The role of re-orienting images will be examined in three respects:

(1) regarding their potential to confront perpetrators with their guilt, to invite them to repair their relations to the injured party, if this is possible, or to take responsibility for irreparable damage they have caused

(2) regarding their potential to help victims to regain their dignity and to deal with overwhelming feelings of grief, powerlessness, anxiety, depression, and shame

(3) regarding their potential to prompt critical reflection, empathy, and civil courage in those who witnessed the event, are implicated in it, or at least informed about what happened.

These aspects will be investigated in all workshop sessions, which are structured thematically.

I) During the first day of the workshop, we will concentrate on visual images of (in)humanity (e.g. painted portraits, caricatures, sculptures, photographs, movies, plays or other performances) and their interaction with mental images (e.g. images of memory, dreams, or intuitive notions that are communicated with or without words).

In particular, we will look at the relation between ethics and aesthetics as it manifests itself in images of (in)humanity in creative responses to ethical dilemmas, double binds and trapping roles. We will include religious (re)sources and different philosophical and theological traditions in order to map the manners in which such images can contribute to processes of coping with trauma, of making up for injustice, and of reestablishing a sense of solidarity after crimes against humanity.

II) The second day of the workshop will be dedicated to verbal images of (in)humanity, i.e. metaphors in written or spoken language.

Images have the power to make evident what they show. Awareness of their power is relevant also to an understanding of how enemy propaganda works, where the visual in the service of the verbal can fool people into believing in lies about others. In this connection it is eye-opening to study the divide between the de-humanizing, deadening effects of the Lingua Tertii Imperii (Victor Klemperer) and poetry or fiction that resists degradation despite deep-felt loss and pain (e.g. Nelly Sachs, Aharon Appelfeld, and David Grossman). In this context the discussion of Jewish thought after the Shoah is of special relevance.

Confirmed speakers:

Jennifer Geddes (Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia); Søren Holst (Department of Biblical Exegesis, University of Copenhagen); Ruth Illman (Donner Institute, Åbo Akademi University); Eva Schürmann (Institut für Philosophie, Universität Magdeburg); Philipp Stoellger (Faculty of Theology, University of Heidelberg); Claudia Welz (CJMC, University of Copenhagen)

Read program

Call for PhD papers:

PhD students who are interested in contributing to the conference themes are welcome to send the title of their paper and an abstract of 200-300 words to Claudia Welz ( by August 1, 2016.

Participation without presenting a paper: 1,3 ECTS; participation with paper: 2,8 ECTS. If you are a PhD student and want to participate with or without paper, please register both via this website and via e-mail (otherwise you won't receive ECTS documentation).