Call for Papers

“DESIRING MACHINES: ROBOTS, MIMESIS, AND VIOLENCE IN THE AGE OF AI”
An online meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion July 7-10, 2021, at Purdue University

We are happy to announce that COV&R 2021 will take placeas planned through the digital meeting platform of utilized by Purdue Conferences. All meetings will be digitally recorded and available to conference participants and other registrants for downloading for up to one year following the conference. Information regarding registration will be forthcoming shortly through Purdue’s conference website: https://www.purdue.edu/conferences/index.php

In our conference this summer, we would like to develop the discussion we anticipated for last summerbut postponed because of the pandemic. We would like to open a conversation between Girardian thinking—especially René Girard’s ideas about mimetic desire, sacrificial violence, and scapegoating—and issues that arise in connection with artificial intelligence. Theorists of AI sometimes speak of a singularity by which they designate an anticipated moment when such systems become self-aware. As AI assumes increasing prominencein our lives, a host of questions arise for those of us who regard Girard’s ideas as important. Does self-awareness in robotics come with mimetic desire the way Girard claims it does for humans? If robots do become self-aware, and do desire, does that awareness and desire necessarily entail conflict or violencethe way it does in human communities for Girard? Are we sure mimesis presupposes self-awareness? Could machines be hyper-mimetic without being self-aware? If we imagine machinesmodeling others, do they model others the way Girard shows that humans do or do they respond exclusively to programmed instructions—stimuli, signals, algorithmsand the like? If we imagine machines as appropriating desire,could humans begin taking machines as their models? We know humans already sometimes take machines as desirable objects. If machines borrow models, what are they? What will self-aware machines imitate? Other machines? Humans? Nearby or remote objects? Atranscendental intelligence of some kind? What role ifany will the sacred play with the coming of AI? Does consciousness presuppose mimesis or vice versa?

We invite papers that probe these and related questions from a wide variety of disciplines. We require only that some serious engagement with Girard’s ideas be a part of the mix. For example, Girard suggests that humans desire not according to objects or subjects but other individuals who model those objects and those subjects for us, and that such borrowed or appropriated desire almost always leads to violence. Or Girard suggests human communities are constituted by nature and origin as systems of management for such borrowed desires (and attendant conflict), and that the primary means for such social control is a widevariety of exclusionary behaviors—from individual projection to collective surrogate victimage and everything in between—and that a primary concern today remains how to avoid or dismantle such sacrificial lynching behavior. A third strain in Girardian thinking is the recourse to certain important texts—religious, literary, and the like—that expose such scapegoating practices and their history for us.

In thespiritof promoting discussion of these matters, we invite papers from the fields of AI, robotics, theology, philosophy, anthropology, literary criticism, women’s studies, historical studies, physics, biology, sociology, film studies, cosmology, cosmogony, cognitive science, psychology, religious studies, environmentalism, political science, the internet of things, and any other fields or disciplines that touch upon (or re-conceptualize) these fields or their issues in such a way that might help us advance serious reflection within the conversation we propose.

All conference meetings will take place over the specified four days and be either plenary or concurrent and last roughly ninety minutes each. Moreover, all concurrent sessions will consists of up to three separate 90-minute meetingsin separate virtual rooms. Given a schedule of papers that needs to accommodate papers delivered in real time by participants in Asian, Australian, British,European, and perhaps othertimezones(as well as those in the United States), we anticipate the delivery of between 80 and 120 papers. We will also be particularly sensitive –given the nature of the topic and the goal of the conference –to leave as much time as possible for question and answer sessions. As has been customary at COV&R conferencesfor many yearsnow, we will continue to encourage papers that are off-topic.

Although the conference will be online, we anticipate that the Raymond Schwager prizewill continue to be awardedas in the past and the winnersinvited to prepare papersfor delivery. More informationon these contests will be forthcoming.

Finally, because this conference was originally planned for July 2020, a number of inquiries had already been receivedbefore the date of Purdue’s cancellation of all in-person campus activitiesfor the spring and summer. We have retained all such inquiries and see no reason in principle that a proposal already accepted would not be accepted in the present context for July 2021. But because of the new online format, we encourage all previous proposers to communicate with usonce again and either remind us of your submission or resubmit your proposal to us before the May 1deadline.

Please send abstracts of at least 150 words to: Sandor Goodhart at goodhart@purdue.edu by May 1, 2021

All inquiries will be acknowledged and paper givers will be notified no later than May 21, 2021.