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Guest lecturer addresses role of empathy in resolving refugee crisis

Luke Glanville headshot

Whitman College is proud to host a constant stream of guest speakers and educators. Many offer on-campus workshops or engage with students in the classroom in addition to their public lectures or events. We ask each speaker to give us a brief insight into their area of expertise.

Luke Glanville is a fellow in the department of international relations at the Australian National University. His research focuses on historical and contemporary questions about duties to protect vulnerable people beyond borders. The author of Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect: A New History, he has published articles in journals including International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of International Relations and Ethnics & International Affairs. Glanville is also the coeditor of several books, including Protecting the Displaced and The Responsibility to Protect and International Law.

His campus lecture, "Self-Interest and the Distant Vulnerable," was sponsored by the Henry M. Jackson Endowed Lectureship in International Affairs and the politics department. He agreed to answer one important question for those interested in learning more about the plight of refugees in today's uncertain political climate. 

Given the context of your scholarly work and with current events like the closure of the migrant camp in Calais, France, what are a few poorly understood aspects of the global refugee crisis and how do we challenge negative attitudes toward newcomers?

I've been reading and thinking about the global refugee crisis for some time now and am increasingly convinced that a key part of the solution lies in the conscious cultivation of collective emotions of empathy and dispositions of generosity towards vulnerable strangers in place of emotions of fear and dispositions of individual and national selfishness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's efforts to cultivate such emotions and dispositions among the German people in 2015 are a useful example of this. Certainly, the eventual backlash within parts of the German population demonstrates the difficulties in sustaining such collective responses to the suffering of strangers over the long-term. But I think there is good reason to believe that concerted moral leadership could over time generate more sustainable and habitual empathetic and generous responses to refugees among wealthy populations. To the extent that we believe that we have a duty to care for strangers, we likewise have a duty to cultivate these emotions so that we are actually inclined to so care for them.

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Published on Oct 28, 2016
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