September 2012‎ > ‎

4 - Social Justice & Human Rights Conference

Academics and non-academics share in the success of the latest CPRSE conference

As the first full academic year that the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics had been in existence drew to a close, CPRSE was in full swing, co-hosting the Social Justice and Human Rights conference. The event brought together a wide range of people: advocates for justice, aid workers, academics, judges, lawyers, pastors and anyone else interested in the topic. The event stretched over two days in late April and included a public lecture on the first evening by one of the keynote speakers – renowned Reformed scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff. The conference reached its goal of 150 registrants, and an additional 93 people registered for the evening public lecture, “Must Love and Justice Forever be at Odds?”

“The concept of the conference was a significant
 one, i.e. to construct a conference that was
 interfaith, interdisciplinary and brought together
 both theorists and practitioners.”

Looking at the breadth and depth of the presenters and panellists who took part, it’s no surprise the Centre reached its registration target. Opening morning lectures by the two keynote speakers Nicholas Wolterstorff and Melissa Williams gave a good touchstone for the days' discussions. Following those discussions were panels on issues such as children's rights, aboriginal rights, disability rights, women's rights, the environment, poverty and immigration. Other speakers presented on such topics as different understandings of justice, forgiveness and rights, and on the tension between justice and other norms. A plenary panel on the first day with speakers Abdulaziz Sachedina, Michael Stroh and Lois
Wilson explored justice and rights’ talk in an inter-religious context among the three Abrahamic faiths. And on the second day, there was a practitioners’ networking session that brought together advocates from the many different justice and rights-oriented groups at the conference to encourage possibilities for co-ordinated efforts.

The conference was an ambitious undertaking. It required a significant amount of planning – not to mention finding enough funding to make it happen – and co-ordination to bring presenters and participants from across Canada and the United States together in an environment designed to foster discussion among people of different backgrounds. The conference was co-sponsored by Emmanuel College and received funding from the Priscilla and Stanford Reid Trust as well as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Since the topic is such a vital one for society today, a video that combines elements of the conference as well as discussions of social justice and human rights is being produced and will be available soon – one more way to continue the work of the conference.

Events like this are important occasions for professional development and networking for academics and practitioners. But for a conference to have a lasting positive impact, it must go beyond those goals. It must foster collective development, understanding and right action within and across communities. The Social Justice and Human Rights conference did just that. As one participant put it: “The concept of the conference was a significant one, i.e. to construct a conference that was interfaith, interdisciplinary and brought together both theorists and practitioners. I also found that the net effect of the conference was a remarkable feeling of hope despite the layers of complexity added to the various issues raised by the conscious interdisciplinarity of the conference.”

The Centre is already hard at work planning its next projects, and we're grateful to all those who worked to plan and run this conference, which was such a resounding success.

Allyson Carr is Associate Director for the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics