【REPORT】The third session of the Global Studies Seminar series “Challenges in Global Studies” “A Cultural History of Sympathy and Charity: Challenges in the Age of Globalization”
The third session of the Global Studies Seminar series “Challenges in Global Studies”
“A Cultural History of Sympathy and Charity: Challenges in the Age of Globalization”
OISHI Kazuyoshi（Department of Language and Information Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences）
TANABE Akio（Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences）
BAJI Tomohito（Department of Advanced Social and International Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences）
KOKUBUN Koichiro（Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences）
To learn more about the Global Studies Seminar series “Challenges in Global Studies,” click here.
The third session of the Global Studies Seminar series “Challenges in Global Studies” took place on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020. Professor Kazuyoshi Oishi (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo) gave a lecture titled “A Cultural History of Sympathy and Charity: Challenges in the Age of Globalisation.”
Professor Oishi began his lecture by touching on the anti-racism movements which have been surging globally since the killing of George Floyd, taking it to be an offshoot of the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. According to him, they provide a test-case illustrating the way in which his research on “sympathy” and “charity” has been recontextualised and revised in the age of globalisation. Perhaps this is a unique case in the field of the history of emotions, where historical situations and contexts are more or less exclusive focal points of reference in defining certain emotions including sympathy and philanthropy. He highlighted “charity” as an exemplary concept whose ramified meanings and definitions have been examined by scholars along with each stage and context of British history. The poor laws implemented initially in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods enacted “public relief” towards the poor in every parish in England, while serving to police Irish immigrants and roving vagabonds. Towards the eighteenth century, when it became ominously clear that the poor laws continued to leave a number of the indigent in distress, so-called “private charity” or “private relief” began to be practiced in an extensive scale to make up for the shortcomings of “public relief” under the poor laws and thus form “mixed economy” in the region of charity. All this process can be explained without any reference to overseas situations. The trans-Atlantic slave trade, by contrast, needs to be located in the increasingly globalised context of eighteenth-century commerce and trade, which continued to prosper and accumulate capitals, in particular, through the expansion of overseas colonies.
Charity expanded with the rise of modern consumerism in the early eighteenth century. During the period of the 1730s-50s a number of charitable institutions – charity hospitals, in particular – were established in England, embodying the idea and spirit of Enlightenment. Charity here did not always imply pure generosity, however: it was sometimes closely tied to imperialist motives as Jonas Hanway’s Marine Society exemplified. Public morals were recurrently monitored through the Reformation of Manners Movements. The mid-eighteenth century saw a surge of sentimental novels or literature of sensibility, in which charitable feelings, such as pity, compassion, benevolence, and sympathy, were highly appraised as social as well as moral virtues. What is interesting about the concept of “sympathy” in the eighteenth century, Professor Oishi noted, is the various ways in which charity and sympathy came to be used and developed in association with synonymous terms such as benevolence and philanthropy. In writing about philanthropy, for example, Francis Bacon equated “caritas” with “good will,” i.e. “benevolence,” while Francis Hutcheson used the term “universal benevolence” as both a moral and political concept. David Hume argued that benevolence and charity were rooted in egotistic motives, while for Adam Smith ascetic and impartial sympathy was placed in the realm of “oikonomia” (œconomy). Smith’s view rejecting the need of human intervention in social and economic interactions came into conflict with an opposing contemporary view that humanitarian and sometimes paternal relief and social, political, or economic reforms were both necessary for solving the problem of poverty.
As one of the dilemmas lying at the heart of charity, Professor Oishi pointed to the question regarding the scope of its application. How far can sympathy reach?: can we truly sympathise with and relieve distressed people beyond our community and overseas? The French Encyclopedia of the eighteenth century defined a “cosmopolitan” as a person who has no fixed abode, yet can extend his sympathy from his/her family to his/her country and then to the human race. The French Revolution was indeed seen as embodying “fraternity,” or the notion of love for humanity tied with universal sympathy, as well as the virtues of “liberty” and “equality.” “Rational Dissents” in Britain consisting mainly of Unitarians advocated the notion of universal benevolence or philanthropy as a moral and political virtue, believing that humans would improve and reform the world through their good nature. This led to a conflict at the end of the eighteenth century between sympathy taken in its narrow sense as “patriotism” and sympathy taken in its broader sense as “philanthropy,” urging a redefinition of the term. Professor Oishi further discussed how “sympathy” became a central concept in literature as discourses advocating for the abolition of slave trade appeared. Women writers also would often thematize sympathy and compose songs appealing to the pity and compassion of women readers, and thus encouraged them to facilitate the abolition movement in the public sphere.
Professor Oishi stressed the importance of examining the history of slavery and slave trade in today’s post-colonial context, critiquing colonialism particularly by taking into consideration the geo-political conditions of the time. A global perspective is essential, as the abolition movements cannot be discussed without taking into account the geo-political influence of the American Independence. He also underlined the issue of partiality and prejudice in addressing sympathy, arguing that sympathy is not a universal moral virtue but a concept whose scope and function requires constant reflection. The global movement to fight racism triggered by the killing of George Floyd and the destruction of statues of those historical figures who were involved in slave trade can be seen as a demonstration of a humanitarian kind of sympathy. On the other hand, we now face cases of tribal or conformist sympathy motivating anti-immigrant, nationalist movements occurring as a reaction to globalization. These examples show that we live in an age divided by multiple levels and forms of sympathy.
Professor Oishi’s lecture generated a number of questions from the audience: how compassion and pity might be appropriated for political purposes; what is the historical background of the conceptualization of sympathy and charity in England; what were the causes lying behind the abolition of slavery, whether they were religious and ethical, or political and economical, etc. These questions led to a vibrant discussion concerning what form sympathy could take in anti-racist movements, how we could overcome a unilateral form of sympathy that divides the subject of sympathy from its object, and what we might learn from history.
【HAN Ahram（Graduate Student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences）】
【translated by OISHI Kazuyoshi (Professor at the Department of Language and Information Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)】