March 14, 2003          


CUA Hosts Symposium on Symbolism, Politics and the Sacred

Gathering of International Scholars Will Be Held in French and English


Scholars from France, Canada and the United States will join their colleagues at Catholic University on March 21 and 22 for an interdisciplinary symposium examining the symbolism of transcendence and the sacred in politics, art, literature, philosophy and anthropology. 


“In the last year and a half since 9/11, a wide range of political actors, from terrorists to Western politicians to families of victims of political violence, have all invoked the sacred in contrasting and ambivalent ways,” says Assistant Professor Peter Shoemaker, who is co-organizing the symposium. “Is the battle against terrorism a ‘crusade?’ Should Ground Zero be a ‘holy site’ or a monument to Wall Street?  These polemics lead us, in turn, to ask more general questions.  Does the sacred necessarily separate us or can it provide a common ground for people of different faiths, perhaps even non-believers?”


“Symbolism and Politics of the Sacred” will bring together academics from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss the intersections and tensions between politics and the sacred in the modern world.  The two-day conference will be held in Caldwell Hall Auditorium at The Catholic University of America, located at 620 Michigan Avenue N.E., Washington, D.C. The conference is free and open to the public.


CUA professor Jean-Michel Heimonet, who co-organized the conference, said examination of the politics of the sacred holds special interest for scholars as international tension with religious overtones builds during the “war on terror.”


“The impact of September 11 went far beyond the economic and political interest within the global world,” Heimonet said. “More profoundly, the terrorist phenomenon highlights the upsurge of a religious instinct, free of any established church, that our rationalist and technical culture failed to keep in check.  Past civilizations had always found means to contain and channel this instinct in making it socially correct and harmless to the

collectivity, notably through art and positive religions.  By exploring the different ways of

representing and shaping the sacred in the modern era, this symposium is a first attempt to define the creation of a cultural space, operating as a kind of ‘safety valve,’ capable of ‘taming’ or ‘civilizing’ the sacred.”


Speakers will address these issues and others as they pertain to the contemporary world, and also within a broad historical, cultural and philosophical context: how did we get here? Specifically, what thinkers, cultural forms and historical moments shaped the paradoxical and divided world in which we live? What does it mean for a secular democracy to speak of “sacred” and “inalienable” rights?


Participants in the conference include:


Lawrence Poos, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Catholic University

Douglas Collins, professor of French, University of Washington

Giuseppe Mazzotta, professor of Italian, Yale University
ian Nelson, assistant professor of Modern Languages, CUA

Peter Shoemaker, assistant professor of Modern Languages, CUA

Michel Despland, professor of religion, University of Concordia, Montréal

Eric Gans, professor of French, UCLA (Keynote Speaker)

Sylvère Lotringer, professor of French, Columbia University

Günter Krause, professor of German, University of Nantes, France

Jacques Gilbert, professor of French, University of Nantes, France

Jean-Michel Heimonet, professor of modern languages, CUA

Jean-François Mattéi, professor of philosophy, University of Nice – Sophia Antipolis, France

Kathryn St. Ours, adjunct professor of French, Loyola College



The event is sponsored by CUA’s Department of Modern Languages and the CUA School of Arts and Sciences.  For more information, contact Peter Shoemaker at 202-319-5240 or e-mail: For abstracts of papers and other information, visit:


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MEDIA: Those interested in covering the event or arranging interviews with participants

     must contact the CUA Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.