Sunday, November 21, 2010

WPD - The Opening Session I

Plenty of security as we were entering the large National Library complex - for obvious reasons when later AN came in rather informally with his entourage and photographers (not quite the regal and controlled entrances that one used to expect from Khatami). There was an MC who reminded me somewhat of a game show host. As everyone sat down, we did not know what the opening session would entail - the English programme did not give details although I later found some posters with a Persian programme setting it out. The MC pointed said that it was indeed auspicious that this gathering was taking place between two great eids - al-adha and al-ghadeer - and appropriate that it was held in Iran which had a continuous role in philosophy at least from Avicenna - a phrase that was constantly repeated through the day was: 'the lamp of philosophy has never been allowed to be extinguished in Iran'. Apparently visiting philosophers from 56 countries were present - later this became 90 experts from 42 (well although the assumption was that we are all philosophers, I for one at not and I don't think that would be an appropriate label for many others there either).

First, of course, was the Quranic recitation - quite beautiful and an apt choice of the light verse. The national anthem followed (various interesting graphics came up throughout the session). Then the introductions from the president of the conference Haddad-i 'Adil and the (ex-)president and president of the 'scientific committee' Ghulam-Reza Aavani.

HA went first - after the thanks (guests, participants, president etc) and welcoming words, he addressed the theme of the meeting: theory and practice. He also mentioned messages sent in from the three major philosophers/theologians in Qum (none of whom interestingly were present) - in order - Ayatullah Javadi Amuli, Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani and Ayatullah Misbah. He even strangely thanked UNESCO (especially given their withdrawal of official status - in fact most people seem to have either forgotten or deliberately omitted to mention that UNESCO had changed its mind 2 weeks earlier). HA repeated the lamp of philosophy image and that Iran was a country at whose very heart philosophy and the spiritual quest remained (interesting how the two were equated by a number of people today), and had a venerable 1000 year old history of philosophy. He then tried to define what he meant by philosophy: attempting to deal with the thirst for knowledge, to understand universal truths not particular exigencies, to address challenges of the time and remove doubts and provide solutions - especially contemporary problem like terror, the nature of life, the family and so forth. Philosophy is not just a mental exercise - he quoted the famous definition of Avicenna about the perfecting of the human soul insofar as is humanly possible. Philosophy should have a prescriptive nature - through demonstration and dialectic it should solve problems through dialogue. Dialogue is very much a motif of this conference. And he ended with a verse of Rumi in the essential human action of thinking. But is philosophy about answers or asking the right sorts of questions, or even just of questioning and inquiring (I'll return to this later as it was raised in the afternoon)?

A short video followed showing HA and A going around schools and universities promoting the work of the WPD - a bit later A in his speech mentioned the various preliminary meetings and conferences that had taken place since 2009 in various parts of Iran - Qum, Shiraz, Hamedan, Suhraward and various campuses.

Aavani's speech described the fourteen panels and their rationale stressing for example the one on philosophy and children (he did not explain philosophy and tourism - not sure many people understand what that is). Iran is the first Asian country to hold the WPD (next year it will be in India) and more about Iran as a country devoted to philosophy. The theme was taken because philosophy needs to address the practical challenges of today (but many of the papers including my own I guess in a sense do not really do that).

But after, we were rather bizarrely entertained by ostad Abbas Shir-Khuda (what a name!) on the drum singing verses from Ferdowsi (translated rather badly into English on the projector above) - was not exactly clear what a scene from a zurkhaneh had to do with philosophy or even the theme of theory and practice (theoria cum praxis).

A speech from the eminent neo-Confucion philosopher and Harvard Professor Tu-Wei Ming and AN and some of the messages - but more of that in a bit.

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