We are delighted to announce that the conference Empathy in Language, Literature, and Society will be held at the University of Iceland, April 4–6, 2014.

The conference venues are Neskirkja at Hagatorg (attached to the church), on Friday, April 4 (Neskirkja) and Árnagarður 201 , on Saturday, April 5, and Sunday, April 6 (Árnagarður). Both venues are indicated on this map of the University campus.

The keynote speakers are Dirk Geeraerts (University of Leuven) and Suzanne Keen (Washington and Lee University).

The goal of the conference is to shed light on various unexplored and contested aspects of empathy. Although the word ‘empathy’ found its way into the field of psychology just over one hundred years ago, philosophers and artists have focused on emotions related to this term for centuries. The vitality of research into this phenomenon during the past 15 years is mirrored by its increasing prominence in public discourse in the media and society. This is clearly manifested, for example, by discussion of empathy as it relates to people’s reactions towards climate change.

The writings of neurologists, philosophers, psychologists and others on the relationship between empathy and mirror neurons call for a new approach to the question of how language and literature evoke empathy. Literary scholars and psychologists have worked together and put considerable effort into empathy research, but linguists have played only a minor role in that enterprise. Collaboration of researchers in these areas is important, however, if we are to understand how language, narrative, social structure, and culture may interact with one another, either to evoke empathy or suppress it.

The conference will be held under the auspices of “Empathy – Language, Literature and Society,” a new cross-disciplinary research project at the University of Iceland. The theme of the conference is empathy in language, literature and society, including the following topics:

  • Empathy and formal aspects of language with regard to empathy and bodily perception.
  • Manifestations of empathy in older texts and older cultures.
  • Empathy in fiction and non-fiction.
  • Narrative structures evoking/suppressing empathy.
  • Contemporary cultural impact on empathy in literature.
  • Individual manifestations of empathy, its relations to other personality characteristics and consequences for social- and political attitudes.