Heroism for a Time of Victims, the 2021/22 Gifford Lecture series, will be given by the eminent moral philosopher Professor Susan Neiman, Director of the Einstein Forum, in Germany.
The series comprises six evening lectures in May, held in Lecture Theatre A at 40 George Square. These take place on Monday 2, Wednesday 3, Thursday 5, Monday 9, Tuesday 10 and Thursday 12 May. Each will run 5.30-6.30pm and be followed by a Q&A.
Professor Neiman will argue that, as yesterday’s heroes are toppled from pedestals, it is time to consider who tomorrow’s heroes should be. The object of history has undergone a radical shift in the past 50 years. In history and literature, whether examining the works of peasants or princes, earlier writers sought heroes. Today, heroes make us nervous.
Professor Neiman believes the desire to shift focus to the victims of history began in demands for justice and to insist that victims’ stories be part of historical record was just righting old wrongs. If victims’ stories have claims on our attention, they have claims on our sympathy, our systems of justice, our bank accounts. As an alternative to older world-views in which victims are voiceless, it’s a definite step towards progress.
But Professor Neiman proposes that something went wrong when we rewrote the place of the victim, and the impulse which began in generosity can turn downright perverse. She suggests we return to an older model, where your claims to legitimacy are focused on what you’ve done to the world, not what the world did to you. This wouldn’t return victims to the ash-heap of history, but would bring the hero back to centre stage.
Susan Neiman is an author and academic. A graduate of Harvard and the Freie Universität Berlin, she is also a former professor of philosophy at Yale and Tel Aviv University.
She is Director of the Einstein Forum, a German foundation that brings together original thinkers from all over the world to test new ideas—and interrogate conventional ones.
The Forum’s topics span arts and humanities, natural and social sciences, ethics and politics but thinking outside traditional academic boundaries encourages a multidisciplinary emphasis. This encourages dialogue between different fields and between specialists and the general public.
Who needs Heroes?
Monday 2 May 2022 5.30-6.30pm
Odysseus and his critics: the first modern hero.
Tuesday 3 May 2022 5.30-6.30pm
Freedom fighter or terrorist? John Brown and the American Civil War.
Thursday 5 May 2022 5.30-6.30pm
George Eliot: heroes without faith.
Monday 9 May 2022 5.30-6.30pm
Albert Einstein: or how to turn a hero into a celebrity.
Tuesday 10 May 2022 5.30-6.30pm
Paul Robeson: art in the service of heroism.
Thursday 12 May 2022 5.30-6.30pm