Issue 14, April 2010
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The Athens Dialogues
An international conference on culture and civilization
By Niki Tsironi,
byzantinologist and researcher at the Institute of Byzantine Research (International Institute of Research), academic coordinator of The Athens Dialogues conference.
The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation is organizing The Athens Dialogues international conference from November 24 to November 27, 2010. The conference will take place in Athens and will mark the inauguration of the new cultural centre of the Onassis Foundation, House of Arts and Letters, whose main purpose is to elevate, promote and encourage the production of modern Greek culture and its dissemination beyond the Greek borders.

The Athens Dialogues chime in with the Onassis Foundation’s broader concern with the Hellenic civilization, which it promotes in various ways. The novelty of this conference, when compared with other ones, is that it aims to examine the issues faced by modern man on the basis of Hellenic thinking, as the latter has been documented over the centuries, and to explore the potential this legacy has to function as a source of possible solutions to the challenges the world faces today and to those it will inevitably come to face.

One more aspect of this conference that distinguishes it from similar ones is its interdisciplinary and diachronic approach to Greek culture. These are the two principal axes which have dictated the conference’s thematic units and will steer the discussion amongst participants. The conference's most distinctive feature is probably the fact that it focuses on the dialogue that will develop through the web before, during and after the conference, as the number of people that will be able to participate in the dialogue online is expected to substantially exceed the number of the attendants at the House of Arts and Letters.

The preparation of The Athens Dialogues conference commenced at a BoD level at the Onassis Foundation in the summer of 2007, following a suggestion by president Anthony Papadimitriou regarding the purpose of the conference and the issues for which it will be called upon to propose potential solutions. The Onassis Foundation Board of Directors assigned the undertaking of this venture to Anthony Papadimitriou and professor George Babiniotis.

Aiming to determine these issues and achieve the best possible organization of the conference, the Onassis Foundation has invited prominent academic institutions to help co-organize this particular endeavour. The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation is the instigator and chief organizer of the event, and in this venture it is supported by the Academy of Athens, the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the German Archaeological Institute, the Institut de France, the University of Oxford, the Center for Hellenic Studies of the University of Harvard, and the University of Stanford.

The collaboration with these institutions does not only guarantee the distinction and gravity of the conference but it also entails their active participation in the decision-making process on several issues. The organizing committee of the conference is presided by professor George Babiniotis and includes representatives of the co-organizing parties, prominent personalities of the scientific sphere, and members of the Greek academic community. The committee is responsible for determining in detail the issues to be discussed, suggesting the most suitable participants for the dialogue, and ensuring the wide dissemination of the conference’s agenda and goals. In its work the committee is aided by researchers and intellectuals from all over the world, who recommend potential speakers and thematic sub-units. Yours truly has been appointed Academic Director of the conference and is in charge of the overall academic coordination.

With a view to mapping out the issues to be tackled in the conference, the organizing committee decided in plenary sessions and finalized during its first official meeting, at Asteras Vouliagmenis in April 2009, six thematic units around which the dialogue will develop. These are based on complementary polarity twins and will be approached, as mentioned above, from a diachronic and interdisciplinary perspective.

Each session will be presided by representatives of the co-organizing parties and, in some cases, by members of the Onassis Foundation Board. The presiding individuals are each responsible for the “composition” of their respective thematic units and the accomplishment of a fruitful dialogue in accordance with the aims of the conference. The six thematic units of the conference are the following: Identity and Difference, Stories and History, Word and Art, Democracy and Governance, Science and Ethics, Quality of Life.

The conference aspires to pioneer an increased use of new technologies at all stages; preparation, organization and actual implementation. The speakers’ papers will be pre-published in the online magazine of the Center for Hellenic Studies of the University of Harvard, which is included in The Athens Dialogues portal. During the conference, the speakers will present a 15-minute summary of their respective papers, initiating thus the dialogue.

The audience can take part in the dialogue through the online forum and during the conference. At this point, it must be noted that attendance is only accepted by invitation. Those interested must submit an application form at the website of the conference ( until June 1st, 2010. Due to limited seating capabilities and the need for a geographical and interdisciplinary representation, not all applications will be accepted. Nevertheless, the speeches given at the conference will be broadcast via webstreaming for everyone who wishes to watch.

Within the framework of the conference and aiming to spread the knowledge for the conference and its goals in the international academic and intellectual community, dissemination meetings are intended to take place in European countries. Over the past two years, such meetings have been held in San Francisco, Boston, Paris, Hamburg, Vienna and Oxford, while more are to take place in New York and Moscow. 

These meetings are also intended to contribute to the creation of a network, under the auspices of the Onassis Foundation, which would consist of people who demonstrate an interest in The Athens Dialogues conference and the Hellenic culture in general. Point of reference of the network in question will be a Greek Studies map featured in the portal of the conference, which will include all the Greek Studies Chairs worldwide, scholars of the Onassis Foundation and all other attendants.

In an attempt to attract young people to the conference, it has been decided that a European competition will be organized in collaboration with E.U.N.I.C. (European Union National Institutes for Culture) network and the British Council, which acts as the network's representative in Greece. The competition addresses young people aged 21-30, university graduates in any field throughout Europe. These new scientists, artists, journalists, authors, etc. will be called upon to write an academic essay or a treatise on one of the six themes of the conference. Four successful candidates will be selected from each thematic unit; each will be invited to attend the conference and have their papers published in the portal.

We are confident that our innovative effort will enable the approach of the Hellenic civilization from a new perspective, which will prove imperative given our time and the historic junctures we are encountering.

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