This is the first post in a series based on the event “UD Interdisciplinary Celebration of Human Dignity,” held March 23, 2017.
How does the University of Dallas curriculum encourage us to live in community? A panel of UD professors addressed the question, joining a conversation with students, other faculty, staff and alumni about the call to preserve human dignity regardless of race, country of origin, gender, religion or beliefs.
Dr. John Norris, Associate Provost, introduced the panel and topic. “At UD, although we promote the search for truth, there are still prejudices and pride, both inside our community and out,” he said. “A guiding question, then, is how can we show humble respect for the viewpoint of the other without falling into the trap of a relativistic morality?” Norris said that each panel member would reflect on how they approach human dignity in their classrooms.
Dr. Eileen Gregory, Professor of English, began her talk by acknowledging that it is the privilege of college campuses nationwide to reflect upon and discuss polarizing subjects, like immigration and refugees, that have surfaced a result of the extreme negativity of last year’s political campaign. “This kind of reflection cultivates in us a reflective life,” she said. “And reflection is our true work. We must learn that ideas have consequences.”
Gregory’s talk focused on welcoming the stranger, a foundational tenet of nearly all societies and religions and one that is reflected in the literature of UD’s Core Curriculum. “The notion of hospitality prohibiting the mistreatment of the stranger was protected by divine law for both the Greeks and the Jews,” she said. “It wasn’t just a matter of right, but the highest form of justice.”
But why was this hospitality so important to society? According to Gregory, to be pitiless to the stranger is to exhibit hubris in forgetting one’s own vulnerability. “The Odyssey is the great text of hospitality,” she said. “Characters reiterate again and again that if you violate the laws of hospitality, you are inhuman. Hospitality to strangers is a defining fundamental of humanity.”
The great literary works also show the poverty and vulnerability of the human condition, as well as our dependence on others. “We don’t like to imagine ourselves as dependent,” Gregory said. “Everything in our culture holds up self-sufficiency and imperviousness to feeling as the ultimate aim.” But although we would prefer to confront the world as if we are invulnerable, that self-sufficiency is an illusion. According to Gregory, this is reason for welcoming the stranger: to do is to acknowledge the precariousness of our existence and our true human fragility.
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