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University of Humanistic Studies

Day 2

Friday, January 31st 

  8.45 -  9.30  Welcome and registration

  9.30 - 10.15  Lecture by prof. Carol Ryff (University of Wisconsin, USA): Meaning, Ageing and Health

10.15 - 11.00 Lecture by prof. dr. Peter Derkx (University of Humanistic Studies): Humanism and Meaning in Life

11.00 - 11.30 Coffee Break

11.30 - 12.30 Discussion led by prof. dr. Jan Baars (University of Humanistic Studies)

12.30 - 13.30 Lunch break

13.30 - 15.15 2 Parallel Sessions:

5The Search for a Meaningful Life, by dr. Wander van der Vaart (University of Humanistic Studies)

The concept of a meaningful life is often discussed in relation to happiness and well-being. In scientific research on well-being two approaches dominate the field: the hedonic approach of "subjective well-being" with Ed Diener as the best-known researcher, and the eudaimonic approach of "psychological well-being" with Carol Ryff as the leading researcher. These approaches to well-being give rise to different views of meaning in life. A hedonistic approach of happiness suggests that people would look for meaning in life by striving for maximization of pleasure and minimization of pain. From a eudaimonic perspective of psychological well-being realizing human potential is the most important aim in life and would guide the search for meaning.

The papers in this session all echo to some extent this debate and in addition add a critical layer to it. They present empirical research that reflects not only the positive side of ‘searching for meaning’ but also its difficult or negative aspects. The search for a meaningful life entails dealing with happiness and depression, ideals and reality, stress and excitement – to cite some notions that picture this session.

While the search for meaning is the task of the individual, it is essentially social too. The  papers reflect this continuum by their main themes: reaching balance through mindfulness-based interventions, searching for a meaningful life through travel, and changes in meaning in life as connected to changes in society.



Kate Spiegelhalter MSc (Sussex University, UK): Accepting the Void

Dr. Sebastian Filep (University of Otago, New Zealand): The Role of Travel in Our Search for a Meaningful Life

Nicola Richter MA (University of Hamburg  / London Metropolitan University)Towards Understanding Peoples' Ideals and Realities about Meaning in Life

Zsófia Szlamka BA (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary): Anonymity – Communication in an Online Society

6. The art of living: Autonomy, meaning and well-being across the lifespan, by prof. dr. Gerben Westerhof (Twente University, the Netherlands).

The art of living refers to taking responsibility to keep one’s life going in a meaningful way across the human lifespan. The papers in this panel all reflect on questions related to the art of living. What is the role of autonomy, what is the role of the narrated past and future, and what role does psychological well-being play in leading a meaningful life? The papers also focus on care settings, including questions about the ethics of care, narrativity in person-centered care, as well as addressing particular interventions, such as life review therapy and well-being therapy. Philosopher Joep Dohmen focuses on the role of autonomy and care in living a meaningful life. Gerben Westerhof will focus on how narrative reflection can help people to construe meaning by living from the past rather than in the past. Anneke Sools, Thijs Tromp and Jan Hein Mooren explore how caring for a meaningful life also asks for narrative future imagination. Ernst Bohlmeijer addresses innovations in therapy that address the promotion of psychological well-being. Together, the papers present a kaleidoscope of answers to how people themselves can contribute to personal meaning as time goes by. 


Prof. dr. Gerben Westerhof (Twente University, Netherlands): Autobiographical reflection: Living of the past rather than in the past

Prof. dr. Joep Dohmen (University of Humanistic Studies): Why Autonomy is more important than Care

Dr. Anneke Sools (Twente University):  Enhancing positive health by narrative futuring
Prof. Ernst Bohlmeijer (Twente University): Adapting Well-being therapy in the Netherlands

15.15 - 15.45 Tea break

15.45 - 17.00 2 Parallel Sessions:

7. Autonomy and Vulnerability in a Just Society, by prof. dr. Jan Baars (University of Humanistic Studies)

In this session, the issue of autonomy will be introduced by Joachim Duyndam, approaching it from the perspective of resilience: the ability to uphold and to promote humanity in oneself and in others, when faced with adversity or opposition. Duyndam emphasizes that autonomy is not the primary and self-evident starting point of morality and moral life but has a responsive character: a resilient response to a preceding heteronomy. Next, Jill McArdle takes the question of a just answer to such a preceding heteronomy to the institutional level. Following the work of Onora O’Neill, she argues that just institutions must take into account the actual conditions of real persons and their actual capacities to reason and act. Central to this is the recognition that vulnerability manifests in many different forms in many different contexts, and that the application of broader principles of justice must be sensitive to the specific vulnerabilities of actual agents. Finally, Jan Baars takes the question of a just answer to a preceding heteronomy and vulnerability to a more structural level. In a life course perspective, basic forms of injustice become more clearly visible in the form of selective mortality and cumulative advantage and disadvantage. This provides the context for a critical analysis of on-going debates about distributive justice in aging populations in which independent adults are opposed to an older population which is portrayed as dependent. He argues that these debates ignore important interconnections between these categories as well as major internal differences within both categories. Moreover, these debates function to obscure the question of a just society.


Prof. dr. Joachim Duyndam (University of Humanistic Studies): Resilient Autonomy

Jill McArdle BA (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland): Agency, Coercion and Vulnerability in a Just Society

Prof. dr. Jan Baars (University of Humanistic Studies): Autonomy, Justice, and the Life Course

8. Old Age and Reconstructing Time in Novels, by prof. dr. Arko Oderwald (University of Humanistic Studies)

'Time is like a flag in the wind', says Virginia Woolf. This may suggest that time is abstract and flexible, it may move in any direction. However, this is not the way in which we give structure to our lives. We try to construct the story of our life more or less linear, in order to ‘close’ the story of our life as a way to get a grip on our experiences. Novels are interesting to study because they may reflect on these temporal constructions of life. In this session we will discuss the way the (re)construction of time plays a role in novels about old age. In the three papers we will focus on the time behind you, the time ahead of you and on having lost your time.


Prof. dr. Arko Oderwald: A Whole Life Ahead of You: Unfinished Business

Sofie Vandamme: A Whole Life Behind You: Reconstructing Time

Jacobien Erbrink: A Whole Life Lost in Time


17.00 - 18.00 Farewell Reception at University of Humanistic Studies (a 2 minute walk from the Paushuize)

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