Paradigms of Change in Modernising Asia and America

Organised by Ghent University and KU Leuven

The terminology of change belonging to the European intellectual tradition—composed of terms that constitute milestones in the historiographical account of societal, historical and political development such as modernity, revolution, renaissance, enlightenment, progress, evolution, etc.—has been substantially reinterpreted and re-signified outside of Europe around the turn of the century. Our hypothesis is that, in the extra-European environment, the originally eighteenth and nineteenth century terminology could find new meanings because of the loosening of the reference to the specific facts and the environmental conditions in which it had been generated. Asian and American scholars, applied terms such as renaissance or enlightenment to their historical predicament and, in doing so, they appropriated them. In that very moment, those terms started to exceed their primary historical referent. They belonged no more to Europe alone and became across-the-board metaphors, universals and tropoi which gave meaning to their experience of change. This interpretative work around terms indicating historical change went together with a fundamental and radical reconsideration of modernity and its prerequisites (i.e.: of modernisation).

Moreover, different extra-European national and religious cultures interacted in creative ways in the re-definition of that intellectual panorama of modernity. Migration and emerging globalisation produced new global discourses and reconfigured cross-national and transnational ideals such as revolution, emancipation and progress. Within these new frameworks, a set of notions grounded in the European historical experience were planted in new geographical and cultural areas and assumed characteristics belonging to the new humus.

Speaking of a Chinese Renaissance or Revolution, or of an American Modernism, or of a stage of Japan in social evolution opened new ways of understanding dominant notions which deserve today a thorough investigation.

The conference aims to redefine the fundamental process of change and modernisation taking place outside of Europe between the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. We are interested, in particular, in re-considering the terminology and narrative that intellectual and political actors from North America and Asian countries used in their effort to define the path of development taken by their nations and communities during a time of rapid change. The prime objective of the conference is to elaborate alternatives to the classic historiographic model of the history of reception from the centre to the periphery. This is not to be intended as the effacing of the European origin of the global narrative on modernity. We are rather interested in highlighting the complex web of relationships that linked other cultural and national areas, among themselves, in the expanding discourse on modernity.


Please, send all applications by email to Dr. Francesco Campagnola (School of Japanese Studies, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University).

We welcome abstracts of 400-500 words. A biographical note should also be included, listing position held, fellowships and grants received and major publications. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is July 20th, 2017. Candidates will be informed by August 15th, 2017 and should confirm their participation by September 1st. Paper presentations should not exceed 25 minutes and will be followed by 15 minutes of discussion. No complete paper is to be delivered before the conference takes place.

A limited number of travel allowances of maximum 250 EUR each will be offered to help offset cost of travel.  Those who wish to benefit of the allowance are kindly asked to mention it in their application