Interdisciplinary Arendt: Pluralism, Promise, Problems 

August 22nd - 25th, 2023

University of Aberdeen

 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Arendt’s celebrated Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen and the two semesters she spent here in 1972 and 1973. She was the first woman to contribute to this august series, established in 1888, which is concerned with practical theology. Arendt’s lectures were published as The Life of the Mind in 1977 and 1978. In this final, incomplete, work before her untimely death in December 1975, Arendt traced her commitment to what she termed ‘thinking without banisters’. Viewing thinking as the link between the active life and the moment of contemplation, Arendt underscored how critical engagement was necessary to both a healthy politics and a healthy mind. In this she implored the reader to be engaged not just in the search of truth, understood as technical expertise, but the pursuit of meaning, or moral wisdom. And it is in the dialogue between the two we find her ongoing concern for pluralism.

To mark this important anniversary and to celebrate the international and interdisciplinary resonance of Arendt’s thought, the University of Aberdeen is hosting a conference of scholars,  from around the world and a diversity of areas of interest, to increase awareness of work in other disciplines and further this vibrant discussion.

Hannah Arendt remains polemical. She is increasingly turned to by political theorists anxious to recuperate a vision of civil life as diverse, interconnected and multivocal. If the current political moment has been characterised as experiencing a populist wave, a form of politics defined by its antagonism to pluralist multiplicity in society, Arendt’s writings have become a site of resistance, offering an articulate defence of pluralism and its embodied virtues. Arendt’s work has thus informed recent discussion of the public square; the totalitarian impulse in politics, the performative nature of public speech; the concept of shared sovereignty; and the moral commitments of republicanism and direct democratic action. She is a central figure in debates around the concept of the political – primarily as an antagonist to the increasingly influential Carl Schmitt - the legitimacy of violence, and the possibility of civil society’s renewal. 

Arendt’s influence has also extended beyond the political domain, reaching out to create an interdisciplinary legacy. Notably she has been influential in debates around the active life and virtue ethics, as well as a wide range of historical and literary studies notably challenging and complementing Jurgen Habermas’s concept of a historically situated public sphere and the theory and practice of social media. She has been a foil in debates over natality, posthuman studies and animal studies.  

However, Arendt has also come under increased scrutiny, with scholarship concerned with the limits and lacunas of her vision. These have emphasised her co-option of Adolf Eichmann’s self-presentation as a bureaucratic functionary in her formulation of ‘the banality of evil’; her entanglement with racist politics in her treatment of the civil rights question in America; her failure to engage with the women’s movement and the feminist claim to politicise the personal; and the complicity of her sustained relationship with the controversial existentialist Martin Heidegger.

To reflect these diverse interests and concerns we have devised the following panels. The detailed programme is under the Schedule tab and the speaker names and abstracts are under the Speakers tab on the top right corner.


Tuesday, 22nd August 2023  

18.00 - 19:00  Registration & Welcome Reception 

19:00 - 20:30  Keynote Public Lecture One: Ronald Beiner (University of Toronto)  



Wednesday, 23rd August 

9:30 – 11:00    Session One: Pluralism, Liberalism, Freedom 

11:30 – 13:00 Session Two: Problematic Arendt: Gender, Race & Empire (Panel sponsored by W. Bednarowski Trust)

14:00 – 15:.30 Session Three: Public Speech, Performance & Identity 

16:00 – 17:30 Session Four: Posthumanism and the Human Condition 

18:00 – 19:30 Keynote Public Lecture Two: Juliet Hooker (Brown University)  


Thursday, 24th August  

 9:30 – 11.00    Session Five: Literature and Religion (Sponsored by the School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture of the University of Aberdeen)

11:30 – 13:00 Session Six: Early Modern Arendt (Sponsored by the School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture of the University of Aberdeen)

14:00 – 15:30 Session Seven: The Totalitarianism Question 

15:30 – 18:00 Relaxation/Walking Tour Old Aberdeen, St Machar Cathedral, River Don, Brig o' Balgownie 

19:00 – 20:30 Keynote Public Lecture Three: Sharon Achinstein (Johns Hopkins University) 



Friday, 25th August  

9:30 – 11:00    Session Eight: Phenomenology and Thinking 

11:30 – 13:00 Session Nine: Arendt’s Eichmann, Judaism & Identity Politics 

14:00 – 15:30 Session Ten: Violence and the Public Life 

16:00 – 17:30 Roundtable: Revisiting The Life of the Mind & Closing Remarks 

19:30 – 21:00 Keynote Public Lecture Four (at the Aberdeen Town House): Kathryn Sophia Belle (La Belle Vie Academy)  

Keynote Speakers

Ronald Beiner 

Ronald Beiner is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1982 he published an edition of Hannah Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. He is the author of Political Judgement (1983); What’s the Matter with Liberalism? (1992); Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit (1997); Liberalism, Nationalism, Citizenship (2003); Civil Religion (2011); Political Philosophy: What is It and Why It Matters (2014); and Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger and the Return of the Far Right (2018).

Juliet Hooker 

Juliet Hooker is the Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence in Political Science at Brown University. She is a political theorist specializing in racial justice, Black political thought, Latin American political thought, democratic theory, and contemporary political theory. She is the author of Race and the Politics of Solidarity (Oxford, 2009), Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos (Oxford, 2017), and editor of Black and Indigenous Resistance in the Americas: From Multiculturalism to Racist Backlash (Lexington Books, 2020). Her most recent book, Black Grief/White Grievance: The Politics of Loss, is being published by Princeton University Press in Oct. 2023.

Sharon Achinstein

Sharon Achinstein is the Sir William Osler Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University, publishing widely on John Milton and the intersection of literature and political communication in the seventeenth century, toleration, religious dissent and women’s participation. Her current work engages in debates over secularism, gender, sexuality and human rights in the early modern period. She has been influential in taking forward the use of Arendtian ideas in considering Early Modern literary works, in 'Milton's Political Ontology of the Human', ELH, Volume 84, Number 3, Fall 2017, which engages with the Arendtian concept of natality to explore the ground of the political in Milton's Paradise Lost.

Kathryn Sophia Belle 

Kathryn Sophia Belle is Associate Professor of Philosophy at La Belle Vie Academy. She is an affiliate faculty in African American Studies, as well as in Women's Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question (2014) She has also co-edited an anthology, Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy and is the founding editor of the journal Critical Philosophy of Race. Much of Belle's research has focused on critical approaches to issues of race, racism, feminism, and intersectionality. 


University of Aberdeen

King's College, Aberdeen AB24 3FX

Phone: 01224 272000

Established in 1495, the University of Aberdeen today is a global presence in higher education. The home of the University, Old Aberdeen, is one of the most beautiful and historic urban areas in Scotland, with buildings dating back to the 15th Century. The Old Aberdeen campus combines immaculately preserved buildings with state-of-the-art facilities.  


Tickets are free but booking is required for access to the Conference/Public Lecture venues (see the Venue tab above).

You may book a place either for the Conference and Public Lectures or for Public Lectures only

This event is made possible with the generous support of the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council and the W. Bednarowski Trust.