Centre for Ethics and Humanism
Centrum voor Ethiek en Humanisme

Annual ETHU Seminar: ‘Social Imaginaries in a Globalizing World’ – 30 May 2018

March 13th, 2018 | Posted by admin in Events | News

You are kindly invited to the Annual ETHU Seminar 2018, Social Imaginaries in a Globalizing World, on May 30th, 2018.

Seminar Theme and Aim

In cultural studies, the concept ‘imaginaries’ has gained ground. It is used in several contexts: social imaginaries, violent imaginaries, techno-scientific imaginaries, spatial imaginaries, environmental imaginaries, etc. These uses can be traced back to the works of Benedict Anderson, Cornelius Castoriadis and Charles Taylor, seeking to understand (late) modern societies. Taylor defines a social imaginary as “the way our contemporaries imagine the societies they inhabit and sustain” (2004, p.6).[1] Social imaginary is about “the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (ibid., p. 23). Taylor stresses that the notion of social imaginary is closely related to the notion of moral or spiritual order, defining the context in which it makes sense to strive for and hope to (partially) realize the right.

Social imaginaries  always imply an orientation towards what we consider to be ‘good.’ The concept of social imaginaries bridges the secular-religious divide, because they show how an implicit background of meanings, normative notions and guiding ideals influences every way of understanding and coping with reality. Influential though social imaginaries are, it is possible for people to take a critical distance, reflect and evaluate them and go through transformative processes. The concept of social imaginaries allows for recognizing the strong impact of social processes without assuming social determinism. Articulation and recognition of what people aspire to in their social imaginaries is a key factor in democratic processes that allow for social change.


The international and interdisciplinary consortium SIMAGINE dedicates itself to the study of social imaginaries between secularity and religion in a globalizing world.[2] The central research question of the consortium is: What can the concept of social imaginaries contribute to the analysis − in current cultural theory, religious studies and globalization theory − of societies that are interculturally super-diverse and display complex blends of existential frameworks, with both secular and religious features? Starting from this question the consortium will develop its research along theoretical and empirical lines.

The Department of Philosophy and Ethics of the VUB – represented by Marc Van den Bossche and Hans Alma as visiting professor – is one of the participants in SIMAGINE. We gladly introduce the consortium in this Annual ETHU Seminar with the hope of interesting more colleagues to relate to the central topics of SIMAGINE. The seminar is meant to inspire and provoke a fruitful and unreserved exchange of ideas on the topic between all participants.

Content of the Seminar

The focus of the seminar will be discussion of the theoretical perspective of SIMAGINE in which ‘imagination’ and ‘social imaginaries’ are key notions.

Guido Vanheeswijck (University of Antwerpen) presents a conceptual introduction to social imaginaries, with a specific focus on their (in)articulacy. He will elucidate Taylor’s major claim that even if cultures are being transformed in analogous directions, it does not follow that they will ultimately converge. Hence, to account for the differences among ‘multiple modernities,’ Taylor coined the concept of social imaginaries, clearly indebted to Benedict Anderson’s famous phrase ‘imagined societies’ and borrowing from Castoriadis’s influential book, The Imaginary Institution of Society. Explicitly referring to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s critique of Cartesian epistemology, Taylor wishes to underline with the use of the word ‘picture’ that the way we imagine our world is something utterly different and much deeper than a theory.

Laurens ten Kate (University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht) relates the theoretical framework of social imaginaries to the philosophical debate on globalization. He does so by analyzing the aspect of play in imaginaries. In the play of creating a temporary world through imagination, a new perspective on transcendence comes to light. He carries out this analysis of imaginaries as spaces and worlds in dialogue with Taylor, Nancy and Nietzsche.

Hans Alma (University of Humanistic Studies, visiting professor VUB) introduces the concept of (moral) imagination against the backdrop of John Dewey’s pragmatism and the way this is taken up by Thomas Alexander and Steven Fesmire. From this perspective she argues that the imagination enables humans to really aspire to what they consider to be good. Imaginaries of the good are the implicit background and driving forces of (religious) worldviews. This is not without risks, especially when imagination is confounded with phantasy or even delusions. In history, we find many examples of imaginaries of the good life that were realized in disastrous ways, both on individual and collective levels. This demonstrates the need for critical reflection and evaluation as indispensable elements of moral imagination. It brings us back to the question of the (in)articulacy of social imaginaries as introduced by Vanheeswijck. Alma will argue that the arts play an important role with regard to this issue.

Stijn Latré is lecturer at Thomas More (University of Applied Sciences) where he teaches courses in Philosophy and Religion, mainly for students in Teacher Training Programs. He obtained a Ph.D. with a dissertation on the philosophy of Charles Taylor in 2008. From 2009-2013, he has been working at the University of Antwerp on a FWO research project entitled ‘The End of Secularization?’, studying proponents and critics of the classical secularization thesis.

Marc Van den Bossche introduces the theme and reacts to the presentations of Vanheeswijck, Ten Kate and Alma, opening the general discussion.


10.00 – 10.30: Words of Welcome and Introduction to the Theme by M. Van den Bossche
10.30 – 11.15: ‘Imagining our World’ by G. Vanheeswijck
11.15 – 11.30: Coffee
11.45 – 12.30: ‘Social Imaginaries and Play’ by L. ten Kate
12.30 – 13.30: Lunch
13.30 – 14.15: ‘The Art of Moral Imagination’ by H. Alma
14.15 – 15.00: Response by S. Latré and Discussion
15.00 – 15.15: Coffee
15.30 – 17.00: Response by M. Van den Bossche and General Discussion
17.00 – 18.00: Reception


Participation is free of charge, but confirmation of your participation is necessary (latest April 30th).

Organization and Location

The seminar is organized by Prof. dr. Marc Van den Bossche en Prof. dr. Hans Alma and will take place at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Building C, Room 5/C402.

Contact Information

For participation and further information please contact: Hendrikjen.Alma@vub.ac.be

[1] Taylor, C. (2004). Modern social imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press.

[2] Participating research groups and departments are located at the following universities: University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, the Netherlands; VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands; University of Groningen, the Netherlands; Utrecht University, the Netherlands; University of Antwerp, Belgium; VUB Brussels, Belgium; University of Cambridge, UK; University of Vienna, Austria; University of Colorado at Boulder, USA; University of California, USA.