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“Civil” Society? On the Future Prospects of Meaningful Dialogue

Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, University of Florida

View lectures from this series online.

General Objectives of the Series

Dialogues occur when conversations between two or more people clarify their positions on an issue. The sharing of opinions and ideas is the first step in solving significant problems. Why, then, do individuals, groups, and nations have such difficulty engaging in productive dialogue about life-and-death issues like climate change, racial prejudice, and the politics of wealth and health disparities? Since when has the polarization of opinions become so pronounced, and what is the impact of this state of affairs on civil discourse? And, why, in the digital age, do we rely upon the thirty-second sound bite instead of taking the time to reflect on the universal issues and interests that could unite us across our ideological differences? Moreover, if we want to change this status quo, what will it take to create safe spaces where we can exchange opinions with strangers and engage in genuine deliberation that emerges from individual experiences and not mere talking points?

In 2013-2014, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere at the University of Florida has organized a nine-month speaker series that seeks to understand the dialogues (or lack thereof) about major issues that have gained political traction in the United States. These issues are as basic as the future of our planet, the price of minority discrimination, and how we construct and remember our collective history. This speaker series has two parts. The first semester will examine the fault lines that divide us, and the conditions that prevent reasoned dialogue. The second semester will generate discussions of how we might foster conditions that will bring us closer together, or at least help us to enter into broader dialogue about the human condition. This semester on “healing” these fractures will explore the future impact of digitization on the written word, the importance of solitude to personal transformation, and how academic scholars can productively frame controversial research topics.

This series of six lectures is co-sponsored by the Rothman Endowment at the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with co-sponsorship from the UF LibrariesHonors ProgramDepartment of HistoryDepartment of EnglishSamuel Proctor Oral History ProgramHyatt and Cici Brown Endowment for Florida Archaeology, the Office of Sustainability and UF Ethics and Civics Week.

Fall 2013 – Social Fragmentation

Spring 2014 – Healing Spaces