A Public Lecture by Professor James L Gibson, Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government, Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, United States will be held on 13 Mar 2018. The Distinguished Lectures series is one of the signature events in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Lingnan University’s Re-establishment in Hong Kong. The topic of the lecture is "Unteaching Intolerance?"
For considerably more than a half a century, serious social scientists have been investigating the question of what causes political intolerance. Unfortunately, no clear conclusions emerge from this formidable body of research. Perhaps one of the impediments to developing a program for converting intolerance to tolerance is the possibility – suggested by some evolutionary psychologists – that xenophobia – the fear of the different – may be naturally selected by evolution for its survival value. Scholars have considered the issue of how intolerance might be converted to tolerance – how it can be “unlearned” – although most results are discouraging. In this presentation, I review the various mechanisms by which intolerance might be unlearned. I pay particular attention to the role of universities in this process, and to the many controversies that currently threaten to undermine a culture of tolerance within the academy. I conclude by reconnecting political tolerance to liberal democratic theory, although in a minimalist version of democratic theory in which the main obligation of the citizen is to support unrestricted political discourse among competitors for political power.
James L. Gibson is the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. He is also Professor Extraordinary in Political Science, and Fellow, Centre for Comparative and International Politics, Stellenbosch University (South Africa). Gibson’s research interests are in Law and Politics, Comparative Politics, and American Politics. He is currently working on an extensive research agenda investigating the legitimacy of institutions (especially courts, state and federal), the rise of political intolerance in the U.S. and in the world, and the role that courts have played in creating inequality in the U.S. Two of Gibson’s books were published in 2009: Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations: Positivity Theory and the Judgments of the American People(Princeton) and Overcoming Historical Injustices: Land Reconciliation in South Africa (Cambridge). The latter is the final entry in Gibson’s South African "Overcoming Trilogy" (Overcoming Intolerance, Overcoming Apartheid; Overcoming Historical Injustices). In 2011, Gibson received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association (honoring "a distinguished career of scholarly achievement"). For 2012-2013, Gibson was a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City. His recent work focuses on the influence of legal symbols (e.g., robes, cathedral-like buildings) on African Americans, investigating the hypothesis that what white people see as symbols of justice many blacks understand as symbols of social control. Oxford University Press will publish his book on this topic (with Michael Nelson, Penn State) in 2018.