8 Jan 2014 - 10 Jan 2014 All day CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT - SG1&2


Register online via the link at the top right hand side of this page
Conference fee: £60 (full), £30 (students) – includes lunch and tea/coffee
Conference Dinner at St John's College: £42 (optional, places are limited)
Deadline: Sunday 5 January 2014


Jonathan Mair (Mellon Newton Fellow, CRASSH)

Nicholas Evans (Division of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)


Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the study of ethics among social anthropologists. Much of this growth has been due to the assimilation into anthropological thinking of virtue ethics building on two streams of theoretical work: that of Foucault, and that of virtue ethicists working in the Anglo-Saxon philosophical tradition.

Proponents of the virtue-ethics approach in anthropology argue that a focus on self- cultivation as a process allows for sufficient attention to be paid to self-conscious reflection. Reflection and the freedom it entails, they argue, are essential aspects of ethical life that traditional social scientific approaches to ethics–Durkheimian approaches–simply ignore.

There appears to remain an area of ethical experience, however, that neither approach can easily accommodate. Since virtue ethics sees ethical judgment as the result of cultivation within a self-conscious ethical tradition, it can no more account for ethical judgment outside of or between traditions than the Durkheimian approach can.

Yet history is full of situations in which multiple, self-conscious ethical traditions meet, and in which people try to judge each other, persuade each other, or draw lessons from each other across the borders that separate those traditions. These situations are what we call ‘speaking ethically across borders’, and this is the phenomenon that the conference, and the publication we hope to produce from it, will aim to explore.

Contexts in which we might expect to find people ‘speaking ethically across borders’ include:

  • religious missions
  • international law
  • colonialism and anti-colonialism
  • vernacularization of cosmopolitan cultures
  • universalization of vernacular cultures
  • the adaptation of ancient models to contemporary situations in renaissances

In these situations, are people limited to using values with which they are already familiar to interpret and judge other values? Or can they genuinely learn from alternative ethical systems? If so, on what conditions does this process depend? Is the capacity for or disposition towards a cosmopolitan attitude to ethics itself a culturally specific norm or a virtue to be perfected, or is it a necessary aspect of ethical thought?

Ethnographically speaking, how have people in fact used the intellectual resources provided by one ethical tradition to judge others? How have they sought to borrow from other traditions, or to persuade followers of other traditions to adopt novel values and practices? What meta-ethics have specific traditions proposed to govern the relationship of members of the tradition to the mores of other traditions?



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Department of Social Anthropology, St John's College and King's College.

Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.

Poster image: Chronique des Empereurs by David Aubert (1462) reproduced in ‘Genghis Khan et l’Empire Mongol’, Jean-Paul Roux, Wikimedia Commons

Administrative assistance: events@crassh.cam.ac.uk





Welcome and introduction


PANEL: Difference and similarity in ethical conversations

  • Jonathan Mair (Cambridge): How to speak ethically across borders
  • Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck): Uses and Abuses of Self Evidence In Ethics

Chair: Nicholas Evans


Coffee break



  • Michael Lambek (Toronto): The hermeneutics of ethical encounters

Chair: Jonathan Mair


PANEL: Conversations between local, national and global regimes of ethics

  • John Marenbon (Cambridge): Medieval Christianity and paganism, ancient and contemporary: moral and non-moral relativism
  • Carlo Severi (EHESS): The Universalism of Diego Valades

Chair: Jane Heal


Coffee break


PANEL: Conversations between local, national and global regimes of ethics (continued)

  • Dinah Rajak (Sussex): Global Extraction and the Ethical Frontier of Development
  • Harri Englund (Cambridge): Poetic Justice and the Proletariat that Never Was

Chair: Matei Candea




PANEL: Disputes, persuasion, and compromise in religious discourse

  • Michael Lempert (Michigan): Hexis, Nexus: Illiberal Buddhist Virtue in the Tibetan Diaspora
  • Nicholas Evans (Cambridge)
  • Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Cambridge/Harvard): Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men

Chair: Soumhya Venkatesan


Walk to St John's College


PUBLIC LECTURE in St John’s College

  • Simon Coleman (Toronto): Borderlands: Ethics, Ethnography and ‘Repugnant’ Christianity

Chair: Richard Irvine

18.30 - 19.00

Drinks reception


Conference Dinner

10.00 -11.00

PANEL: Distinct traditions, common standards

  • Paolo Heywood (Cambridge): Are We Church? Moral dialogues between Catholic and LGBTQ activists in Italy
  • Jan Lorenz (Manchester): Moral obligations, moral upheavals and questions of belonging in a contemporary Polish Jewish Community

Chair: Tim Jenkins


Coffee break

11.30 - 13.00

PANEL: Distinct traditions, common standards (continued)

  • Joanna Cook (UCL): Furtive loving-kindness and the problem of Buddhism in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy

Chair: Tim Jenkins

13.00 - 13.30

Final discussion

Upcoming Events


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk