Conference: "Theorizing Human Nature: Bridge, Barrier, or Both?"

(part of a series)

Location: University of Notre Dame (View on map )

2018 Human Nature Conference

The Fourth Annual Joint Graduate Student Conference by the University of Notre Dame and University of Chicago will take place at the the Notre Dame Conference Center (McKenna Hall) on February 25-27, 2018.

About the Conference

What is the place of human nature in academic and public discourse? Some contemporary thinkers have begun to reconsider whether the concept of human nature might establish common ethical ground between religious, cultural, and philosophical traditions. Scholars who attempt such a retrieval of human nature distinguish their work from late-modern theories by employing sociological, scientific, feminist, and postcolonial resources that were unavailable to or ignored by earlier theorists. Despite these distinctive attempts to recover a more capacious and sensitive conception of human nature, many, even among those who think human nature is a necessary concept, view appeals to it as inherently problematic. This conference aims to foster a multidisciplinary and critical engagement with contemporary appeals to human nature in ethical debates, with special attention to appeals to nature in public discourse.

Read the Q & A

The conference organizers answer some informational questions about the conference here.


Download the public schedule (updated 2/22/2018)
All conference panels and keynotes will take place at McKenna Hall (Notre Dame Conference Center).



4:45 p.m.  PANEL 1: Dehumanization

7:00 p.m.  KEYNOTE: Why I Can’t Shake Human Nature, Even Though I’ve Tried: A Personal Itinerary
Cristina Traina, Northwestern University


9:00 a.m.  KEYNOTE: On Being Human: A Perspective from Amartya Sen’s Idea of Justice
Séverine Deneulin, University of Bath

1:15 p.m.  KEYNOTE: Black Dignity
Vincent Lloyd, Villanova University

3:00 p.m.  PANEL 3: Ethnographic Perspectives on Human Nature

4:30 p.m.  PANEL 4: Challenging Religious and Societal Narratives of Sexuality


9:00 a.m.  PANEL 5: Human Nature in Ecological Perspective

10:30 a.m. KEYNOTE: Plurality, Plasticity, and Emplacement: Reflections on “Human Nature” from the Field and the Archives
Thomas Tweed, University of Notre Dame


Keynote Speakers & Biographies

Severine Deneulin
University of Bath

Séverine Deneulin is a visiting fellow for the 2017-18 academic year at Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame.  While at Kellogg, Deneulin will conduct research on engaging development policy and practice with religious traditions, using the capability approach as a bridge between religion and development policy. She will give special attention to the Catholic tradition and the areas of environmental protection and urban integration. Deneulin’s work draws on her active involvement in engaging religion and development in a marginal neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Séverine Deneulin (DPhil, University of Oxford is associate professor in International Development at the University of Bath, where she teaches in the MSc in International Development and Professional Doctorate in Policy Research and Practice programs. In her research, she specializes in development ethics, poverty and inequality in Latin America, and the “capability approach” developed by economist and philosopher Amartya Sen.

Her publications include Wellbeing, Justice and Development Ethics (Routledge, 2014), Religion in Development (Zed, 2009), Transforming Unjust Structures (Springer, 2006), and numerous journal articles. She is on the advisory committee of the Institute of Human Development in Latin America at the Catholic University of Peru. Deneulin has taught the capability approach at the University of Bethlehem, Palestine, Universidad Centroamericana, El Salvador, the Catholic University of Argentina, and FLACSO Argentina. While at Kellogg, Deneulin will also contribute to Keough School Master of Global Affairs seminars on development ethics and integral human development. In addition to her PhD in development studies, she holds an MSc in economics from the University of Louvain in her native Belgium.


Photo Vincent Lloyd
Vincent LLOYD
Villanova University

Vincent Lloyd is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, where he directs the Villanova Political Theology Project. Lloyd has held visiting fellowships at Emory University’s James Weldon Johnson Institute, the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research in the Humanities, and the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. Next year he will be the Alan Richardson Fellow at Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion. Lloyd’s books include The Problem with Grace: Reconfiguring Political Theology (Stanford, 2011), Black Natural Law (Oxford, 2016), and In Defense of Charisma (Columbia, 2018), as well as the co-edited volume Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics (Orbis, 2017). He co-edits the journal Political Theology, and he edits the book series Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion, published jointly by Oxford University Press and the American Academy of Religion. Lloyd is currently working on a co-edited volume, Dignity from the Margins, as well as a book about divine and human fatherhood in African American culture, God the Black Father. He has written for Black Agenda Report, First Things, Religion Dispatches, and The Immanent Frame, where he serves on the editorial board.


Photo Cristina Traina
Cristina TRAINA
Northwestern University

Cristina Traina is Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL and was 2017 President of the Society of Christian Ethics.  She is a graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School, where she was advised by James Gustafson and then William Schweiker.  Since she began her study of ethics under Paul Ramsey, she has been interested in social ethics and in the theological and theoretical framework that supports it.  Her favorite intellectual projects bring an interdisciplinary approach to contradictions in either cultural or scholarly moral commitments.  Her books include Feminist Ethics and Natural Law  (Georgetown, 1988) and Erotic Attunement:  Parenthood and the Ethics of Sensuality between Unequals (Chicago, 2011).  She is currently writing a book on child workers, child migrants, and intersex and transgender children as moral agents.  She was also active in Reformation 500.


Thomas Tweed
Thomas TWEED
University of Notre Dame

Thomas A. Tweed is the Harold and Martha Welch Professor of American Studies and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.  He is also Faculty Fellow in the Institute of Latino Studies and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.  He previously taught at the University of Texas, the University of Miami, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  At UNC he was Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, Zachary Smith Distinguished Professor, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, and founding director of the First Year Seminar Program.  Tweed's research, which includes six books, has been supported by several grants and fellowships, including three from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He edited Retelling U.S. Religious History and co-edited Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History, which Choice named an "outstanding academic book."  He also wrote The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent and Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami, which won the American Academy of Religion's book award.  Tweed's Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion was published in 2006, and his most recent book, "America's Church": The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation's Capital, also received the AAR's book award for historical studies.  His professional service has included work as an external reviewer, expert witness, blog contributor, museum consultant, and media advisor.  He has led workshops for high school teachers and been on the editorial board of journals, including Church History and History of Religions.  In 2015, Tweed served as president of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the largest professional organization for scholars of religion.

Contact Information

For information about attending the conference, please contact:

Melanie Webb
Events Program Manager

Nanovic Institute for European Studies 

(574) 631-5123