from May 12, 2023 to May 13, 2023
Published on March 14, 2023 Updated on March 27, 2023

The savages of the Enlightenment

Venue: The 12th of May at Maison Internationale de la Recherche, Neuville-sur-Oise, CY Cergy Paris Université and the 13th of May at Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne

International conference coordinated by Blaise Bachofen, CY LEJEP laboratory.


The question of the universality of the Enlightenment heritage is insistently raised in many contemporary debates, whether they concern tolerance, especially religious tolerance, democracy, emancipation, minority rights, equality between peoples or ecology. If autonomy through reason is what defines the Enlightenment - according to Kant's hypothesis - should we deduce from this that 18th century European thought is intended to serve as a compass for all humanity? Or is the rational universality of which the Enlightenment is the paradigmatic moment the mask of a particular, even reductive expression of thought, European-centric and reducing rationality to an instrument of political and technical domination? We often neglect the fact that the Enlightenment has outlined what Mark Hulliung calls an "Autocritique" (The Autocritique of Enlightenment, 1994]. This is exemplified in the way the figure of the "savage" was used to think about the identity of the West vis-à-vis its other. References to what we know (or think we know) about "the savage" or "the savages" are mobilized in the 18th century in a recurrent, even almost systematic way, to think about the formation of society, power, morality, religion, law, war, language, and the notions of progress and civilization: one “seeks the society of nature in order to meditate on the nature of society” (Lévi-Strauss, “J.-J. Rousseau, fondateur des sciences de l'homme”, 1962).
In order to study the use of the figure of the "savage" in the eighteenth century, the colloquium will bring together 14 specialists from France, Brazil, Japan, the United States, Italy and Germany for two days at CY Cergy Paris Université (Neuville site) and Paris 1 - Panthéon-Sorbonne. The interventions will focus on the following three thematic axes:
1) Savage peoples, objects of an emerging anthropology;
2) The encounter between the West and the savage worlds - colonization and travel narratives;
3) Hypotheses on the morals and politics of savages.


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