The Athens Dialogues, An International Conference on Culture & Civilization
The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation organized an international conference entitled The Athens Dialogues. The conference was held in Athens on 24-27 November 2010 and it was planned as the inaugurating event of the Onassis Cultural Centre – Athens, a new cultural space with the fundamental aim of presenting, projecting and encouraging contemporary Greek culture and its dissemination beyond Greece.
The Athens Dialogues conference was organized in collaboration with the Academy of Athens, the Accademia dei Lincei, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the German Archaeological Institute, the Institut de France, the Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, the University of Oxford and Stanford University.
Greek culture is one of the milestones of the universal humanistic inheritance. Indeed, many of the questions addressed by great thinkers in Athens, Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, where the Greek language and civilization were adopted from ancient up to modern times, have become part of the very fabric of contemporary cultures; they are the basis of political, philosophical, artistic, scientific and cultural discourse or “dialogue” throughout the contemporary world.
The conference aimed to explore the potential of this legacy as a source for solutions to challenges that the world faces today and to those that it will inevitably come to face in the future. The principal question it aimed to raise was: how can this inheritance be relevant to major changes and shifts in various fields that the contemporary world is undergoing?
The Athens Dialogues, however, did not focus solely on Greek culture and did not confine itself to the western world. The new globalized world is no less a “pond” than the Mediterranean Sea was in ancient times and the “mare nostrum” has indeed become the “terra nostra”. Besides, since ancient times, other great thinkers in Western and Eastern Europe, North and South America, the Arab world, the Orient and India, have each added to human thinking and advanced greatly our understanding. Aiming to have a universal appeal, the conference sought to include people from “non-western” countries, who would bring their own ideas and perspective into the discourse on major contemporary issues.
Finally, the conference tried to appeal to the younger generations as well, in its attempt to address not only contemporary but also future challenges. Students and young scholars, artists and scientists of various fields were invited to share their thoughts and concerns and to enter into a dialogue with their heritage which proved fruitful.
The Conference focused on the following six thematic sessions which were approached from a diachronic and interdisciplinary perspective. Themes such as economy, religion and technology permeated all sessions and for this reason were not included separately.
- Identity and Difference [Chair: Professor Dame Averil Cameron]
- Stories and Histories [Chairs: Professors Hans-Joachim Gehrke and Johannes Koder]
- Logos and Art [Chairs: Professors Gregory Nagy and Richard Martin]
- Democracy and Politeia [Chairs: Professor Konstantinos Svolopoulos and Anastasios-Ioannis Metaxas]
- Science and Ethics [Chairs: Professors Athanassios Fokas and Jacques Jouanna]
- Quality of Life [Chairs: Professors Robert Harriss and Dimitri Nanopoulos]
Representatives of the co-organizing institutions along with eminent personalities of the scholarly world and members of the Greek academic community participated in the organizing committee of the conference presided over by Professor George Babiniotis. Its task was to formulate carefully the questions to be discussed, to propose the most suitable persons to take part in the discussions and to assume responsibility for the broad dissemination of the problems addressed and the aspirations of the conference. The work of the organizing committee was greatly assisted by scholars and intellectuals from all over the world who submitted proposals concerning potential speakers and topics. Dr Niki Tsironis was appointed as the academic co-ordinator of the Conference.
The Athens Dialogues was organized as a working meeting, where not only the speakers and respondents but also the “public” attended by invitation only. This procedure ensured the high level of dialogue between the contributors themselves and the public. For best results the organizing committee decided on the pre-publication of the papers on the net, a procedure that enabled respondents to be prepared for the opening of the dialogue during the days of the conference.
The Onassis Foundation launched also a web portal, where all departments of Hellenic Studies are included along with the universities and research centres conducting important research on Hellenic culture and civilization. The portal aims to become a point of contact and communication between all those who are engaged or interested in the Greek cultural heritage. It facilitates also the work of the committee as well as the communication among the participants, since keynote papers and comments have been published there long before the actual conference. The portal continues to be enriched and will continue in the future.
The Athens Dialogues are envisaged as an ongoing project which started before the actual conference through its website and continues after the end of it.