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HHFDWC Report Summary

Project ID: 676258
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HHFDWC (The History of Human Freedom and Dignity in Western Civilization)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The research project is an Initial Training Network (ITN) established by 6 universities and 9 non-academic partner organizations and engaging scholars from various disciplines. The ITN will trace the roots and transformations of the human values of dignity and freedom in theological and philosophical traditions, among other things with the aim of understanding modern debates and conflicts about these values.
The idea of human freedom, autonomy, and dignity is fundamental to the modern concept of human rights and for the welfare state model on which most European countries build their societies. However, the long history and developments of this conception of humans have never undergone a comprehensive large-scale analysis. This is what the ITN aims to do: to investigate the philosophical and theological traditions behind the modern Western conception of humans as free, valuable, and dignified beings, and how these traditions developed chronologically and geographically. The network will focus on the reception and assimilation of the theological ideas expounded by the church father Origen from the 3rd century.

The ITN has 3 scientific objectives. The 1st objective is to clarify the transmission and reception of Origen’s ideas about human freedom and dignity in the Medieval West, focusing on Augustine, John Eriugena, Gregory the Great and Bernhard of Clairvaux. The second objective investigates the early modern and modern periods focusing on the reception of Origen’s ideas in an English, Dutch, Danish and German context. The third objective is to clarify the role that ideas about human freedom and dignity play in contemporary society.

By focusing on the reception of Origen’s theological and philosophical arguments for and ideas about human dignity and freedom in later traditions, the ITN will expound the function of the transcendent and philosophical dimension in relation to human dignity and freedom. Such a project is highly relevant today since the modern Western conception of humans as free, valuable, and dignified beings is among the fundamental pillars of Western democracies and human rights – and these pillars are under pressure, both from political and religious movements and from global crises (like economy and environment) that limit the individual’s autonomy. However, when we have a historically informed and comprehensive understanding of these fundamental values and their origins and development, we can argue more authoritatively for their continued existence and value. This makes the ITN’s research relevant and useful to a broad circle of stakeholders, not least in the non-academic sphere.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

In the first two years of the project, much work has been done to ensure a steady and successful progress towards achieving our goals. First, we have recruited and trained 14 engaged ESRs to do research and gain a number of scientific and transferable skills, established the ITN boards, scheduled meetings, finalized the course plans, prepared leaflets, established the project communication systems, and ensured the proper implementation of the ITN rules and regulations.
All ESRs have made a career development plan; a primary and secondary supervisor have been assigned to each ESR, and arrangements for secondments have been arranged. The ESRs have gained academic skills during their research. The network-wide seminars and courses also offer the ESRs opportunities to develop different scientific and transferable skills. On our seminars, modules on career advice and feedback on their research from external researchers have contributed to the ESR training.

Three ESRs work to illuminate the first period of the reception of Origen. The aim of the 1st subproject is to distill which of Origen’s ideas about human freedom and related issues inspired Augustine. ESR 2 has analyzed the exegetical works by Gregory the Great, while the 3rd ESR focuses on the theological anthropology of Bernard of Clairvaux. The second objective is to study the reception of Origen’s thoughts on human freedom and dignity in the early modern and modern periods. Seven ESRs work on reaching this objective. The 1st subproject (ESR 4) focuses on the philosophical ideas of freedom and dignity developed in the Renaissance and Reformation. ESR 5 studies the reception of Origen among the Cambridge Platonists, focusing on Anne Conway. ESR 6 has conducted research on 17th-century theological and philosophical debates in Dutch Arminianism, in particular Le Clerc. ESR 7 focuses on the debate on human freedom and dignity in the German Radical Pietism. ESR 8 is working on the Origen reception in Danish and German Pietistic Devotional Literature, and ESR 9 explores how G.E. Lessing uses Origen's ideas to form his own religio-philosophic argumentation. The starting point of the 10th subproject was to search for possible links between Origen and Kant via Pietism. However, the studies by ESR 10 has revealed the link does not directly exist. However, there is strong evidence of links between Schelling and Origen, which are currently being examined by ESR 10. 4 ESRs work on the third objective - the ideas about human freedom and dignity in contemporary society. The focus of project 11 is to investigate the reception of Origenian ideas in modern Catholic theology with a particular focus on Hans Urs von Balthasar. ESR 12 works on the reception of Origen's ideas in modern Protestantism while project 13 is a sociological-anthropological study of the question of human freedom in a group of Muslims in Aarhus, Denmark. ESR 14 examines to which degree the value of individual dignity plays a role for decision-making authorities in modern organizations.

In addition to the ESR work progress and as part of the work done by all ITN participants, ESRs and supervisors have been actively engaged in other activities, such as publications and organizing conferences. The network is also engaged in many different outreach activities such as creating a database, updating the webpage with podcasts and reports, oral presentations, posting news on social media profiles, etc. The ESRs have been have been particularly productive in the non-academic outreach activities, including blog-writing on the project website.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The ESRs have already come a long way in highlighting the percussions and discussions of Origen's ideas in all the centuries up to today. By focusing on the reception of Origen’s theological and philosophical arguments for and ideas about human dignity and freedom in later traditions, the ITN raises awareness of how ancient tenets still shape political, moral, and anthropological categories and modes of thinking as well as principles of human conduct. Thus, the work in the ITN has already contributed to a more nuanced understanding of various notions and concepts of human freedom and their consequences in different philosophical, legal, and ethical concepts and spheres.
As all participants continuously update the project's database, which will also be maintained after the ITN ends, all the relevant sources and bibliographies can be extracted from this by all interested persons. Also, by offering a range of different courses and encouraging the participants to gain skills and insights from other networks and events, the project will have a positive impact on the ESRs’ skills and career perspectives, whether they stay in or outside academia.

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