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Science and the meaning of life in a time of disenchantment

by Richard Meckien - published Apr 04, 2014 03:10 PM - - last modified Oct 28, 2015 12:38 PM

Bernardo SorjThe formation of modern world is associated with the process of secularization, which owes a lot to the scientific and technological development of the last centuries. However, if on one hand rationality has led to a profound transformation of society, where freedom has replaced the dogmas and certainties previously provided by the immersion of culture and power in religious beliefs, on the other it has also led to a sense of relativity of values. The result seems to be a world where the meaning of life has become fragile and where individualism, utilitarianism and consumerism leave no room for seeking transcendence.

This analysis of nowadays is the starting point of the workshop “Science and the Polytheism of Values”, to be held by the IEA-USP on April 8, at 9.30 am. Among the topics to be discussed at the meeting there are the place of science and religion in this pluralistic universe, the challenges that pluralism of values put ​​in a globalized world and the position of Brazilian culture in this context. This will be the opening event of the cycle “In Search of Lost Meaning: Interdisciplinary Dialogues on Science and Transcendence”.

The exhibitor will be sociologist Bernardo Sorj, a retired professor from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and currently a visiting professor at the IEA-USP. The panelists will be Alfredo Bosi, professor emeritus from USP’s Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) and editor of IEA-USP’s journal  Estudos Avançados, and Enrique Larreta, director of the Institute of Cultural Pluralism (IPC) of the Universidade Cândido Mendes (UCM). Moderation will be in charge of Martin Grossmann, director of the IEA-USP.

According to Sorj, the political ideologies of modernity - as the Enlightenment liberalism, fascism, communism and nationalism – have maintained from religious monotheism the notion that values ​​can be organized around universal principles and that there is a single truth. With the decline of the "secular religions" a world of "polytheism of values ​, which transfers to the individual the right and responsibility to choose between often conflicting and mutually exclusionary beliefs and values" has arisen.

This polytheism of values ​​is the main feature of today in the opinion of Sorj, for whom "the challenge of democratic societies is to assume this position, completing the process of secularization that began in the Renaissance."


The cycle “In Search of Lost Meaning: Interdisciplinary Dialogues on Science and Transcendence”, coordinated by Sorj, will have four meetings. The goal is to address the changes caused by the decline of the great political ideologies and to discuss the production of meaning in this new sociocultural context.

According to Sorj, the everyday is invaded by the immediate concerns of success, status and consumption, by media that convey a flood of information that deplete themselves and social ties transferred to social networks, where quantity replaces density.

"We live in a world where technology permeates every angle of our lives, but we do not understand its knowledge bases. Communication is ubiquitous, but its content is shallow. The sense of time evaporates along the immediacy of the present and the insecurity of the future. The pursuit of individual happiness has evacuated of collective life and handed into the hands of therapists and drugs.", says the sociologist.

Focusing on this panorama of transformations, the cycle of events will address some key issues:

  • What is the role of university and scientific knowledge in this new world?
  • Is there a new meeting point between natural and human sciences?
  • Is there space for a dialogue between scientific knowledge producers and other areas that reflect on human condition?
  • How can local and global interact and produce new cultural syntheses?


The event will be broadcast live on the web.