A Conference report by Martin Pjecha
The conference “Crisis and Renewal in the History of Political Thought”, hosted in Heidelberg 11-13 October, 2018, was the fifth conference organized by the European Society for the History of Political Thought (ESHPT, https://europoliticalthought.wordpress.com). The Society itself, founded in 2009, intends to function as a platform for international academic communication between established and young academics on the vast field of “political thought”, broadly defined. To this end, it has organized events, workshops, publications—the most recent being László Kontler and Mark Somos (eds.), Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (Leiden: Brill, 2017)—and biannual conferences. The latter have all been thematically-focused on issues like citizenship, constitutions, and this year’s crisis, a term linked to sudden change and opportunity in politics.
The conference’s program represented quite well a broad chronological framework, with papers devoted to authors of the ancient, medieval, early-modern, and modern periods. Yet the focus of the conference clearly lay in the two latter periods, particularly in the early-modern and Englightenment leaning into the modern. It could be argued that some organizers relied on a particular understanding of political thought, evidenced by the weak representation of medieval thought, political theology, and political thought from outside Europe in general; such welcome additions would more fully fulfill the conference’s desire to exhibit the field’s current research trends on a global scale.
Shortcomings in scale and focus aside, the conference was of quite high quality, with both presenters and audience engaging in thoughtful and well-informed discussion. A part of this may be explained by the proportion of established academics and emeritus scholars in the program; this was by no means a graduate conference. This brings us to the question of the goal and identity of the conference and the ESHPT moving forward, which can either highlight its current strengths in more traditional political thought, or expand its scope to a more precarious but representative notion of global political thought, with the accompanying necessary inclusion of disciplines like religious studies and theology (among others). This conference was clearly an attempt to do both, a challenge which it met with varying success, despite its high intellectual quality.