Compassion: A Universal Value?

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The Glasshouse, Stormont

Upper Newtownards Road



United Kingdom

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This holistic one day conference, kindly funded by The Graduate School in Queens University Belfast will educate both the minds and hearts of QUB students, staff and those external to the University who have an interest in creating a more compassionate world. The motivation for this symposium is inspired by the Charter for Compassion proposed by Karen Armstrong’s ‘Ted Prize Wish’ and will be uniquely designed to enhance prosocial behaviour, positive affective feelings and promote empathetic relationships in each delegate who attends the conference. Compassion is a universal value revealing our common humanity and interdependence, its importance is widely recognised and is receiving increasing research credibility and attention. According to Straus et al. (2016) compassion consists of five elements: recognising suffering, understanding the universality of human suffering, feeling for the person suffering, tolerating uncomfortable feelings, and motivation to act to alleviate suffering. When one experiences trauma, it is axiomatic that psychological distress follows, manifesting as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Traumatic experiences affect a person’s capacity to be self-compassionate, recovery is about nurturing and growing the ability to be compassionate, initially to oneself, then, in turn to others. Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer, two key researchers and therapists, working on understanding self-compassion, have noted that self-compassion can be taught (Germer, 2009; Neff, 2011). On a global scale, Karen Armstrong, British author and commentator known for her books on comparative religion, delineates twelve steps combined with particular methods to help one cultivate and expand their capacity for compassion. Armstrong complements her work with the findings of contemporary neuroscience; she presents a compelling argument that compassion is hardwired into one’s brain, yet is constantly pushed back by one’s more primitive instincts for selfishness and survival. A compassionate life is both an attainable and a desirable goal; it opens the possibility for creative responses and non-aggressive approaches to discourse: a compassionate language. A sustainable future in QUB and beyond, requires an edifice defined by the building blocks of compassion for oneself, fellow humans, and the natural environment.

Symposium Schedule

Compassion - Theory transforming practice

10am - 10.10am : Welcome - Carolyn Blair

10.10am - 10.30am : Karen Armstrong introduced by Dr Joan Rahilly

10.30am - 10.45am : Round table introduction

10.45am - 11am : Philosophy of Compassion - Professor Stephen Williams

11am - 11.15am : Round table discussion

11.15am - 11.30am : Coffee break

11.30am - 11.45am : Compassion in A Secular Key - Dr Celia Kenny

11.45am - 12 midday : Round table discussion

12 midday - 12.15am : Politics and Compassion - Professor John Brewer

12.15pm - 12.30pm : Closing round table discussion


Compassion - Practice transforming theory

1.15pm - 2pm : Compassion - Language of the Heart - Ryushin Paul Haller, Soto Zen Roshi and former Abbot of San Francisco Zen Centre

2pm - 2.15pm : Coffee break

2pm - 2.45pm : Mindfulness - The Breath of Compassion - Frank Liddy (AWARE Mindfulness Practitioner and Chair of Compassion City Belfast) -

3.15pm - 3.45pm : Q&A session - Karen Armstrong, Paul Haller and Frank Liddy.

3.45pm - 4pm : Closing thanks - Carolyn Blair

The Keynote Speaker – Karen Armstrong OBE FRSL
Karen Armstrong is a British author and commentator known for her books on comparative religion. A former Roman Catholic religious sister, she went from a conservative to a more liberal and mystical Christian faith. She attended St Anne's College, Oxford, while in the convent and majored in English. She became disillusioned and left the convent in 1969. Armstrong’s work focuses on commonalities of the major religions, such as the importance of compassion and ‘The Golden Rule’. When Armstrong received the US TED Prize in February 2008, she used that occasion to call for the creation of a Charter for Compassion, which was unveiled the following year. The Charter for Compassion works from the premise that the principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions which calls each human to treat all others as they wish to be treated themselves. The petition for the Charter for Compassion is compelling,

“We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

Professor Stephen Williams

Professor Stephen Williams was born and received his early education in Wales. He holds MA degrees in Modern History from Oxford University and Theology from Cambridge University and, after a year studying Practical Theology in Aberystwyth, Wales, he was elected Henry Fellow at Yale University (1976-7). He subsequently pursued doctoral studies at the Department of Religious Studies, Yale University (PhD 1981). In 1980, he was appointed Professor of Theology at United Theological College, Aberystwyth. From 1991 until 1994, he was based in Oxford at the Whitefield Institute for theological research, during which time he also tutored in Philosophy of Religion for Oxford University. He took up his present position in 1994. Stephen Williams has published in different areas in theology, ethics and intellectual history. His books include Revelation and Reconcilliation: A Window on Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche's Critique of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) and the Kantzer lectures, The Election of Grace: a Riddle Without a Resolution? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

Professor John Brewer

John Brewer is Professor of Post Conflict Studies in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. He was awarded an honorary DSocSci from Brunel University in 2012 for services to social science. He is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy (2004), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2008), a Fellow in the Academy of Social Sciences (2003) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (1998). He has held visiting appointments at Yale University (1989), St John’s College Oxford (1991), Corpus Christi College Cambridge (2002) and the Australia National University (2003). In 2007-2008 he was a LeverhulmeTrust Research Fellow. He has been President of the British Sociological Association (2009-2012) and is now Honorary Life Vice President. He has been a member of the Governing Council of the Irish Research Council and of the Council of the Academy of Social Science. In 2010 he was appointed to the United Nations Roster of Global Experts for his expertise on religious peacebuilding. He is the author or co-author of fifteen books and editor or co-editor of a further three, includingReligion, Civil Society and Peace in Northern Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2011), Ex-Combatants, Religion and Peace in Northern Ireland (Palgrave, 2013) and The Public Value of Social Sciences (Bloomsbury, 2013). He is General Editor of the book series Palgrave Studies in Compromise after Conflict. He is Principal Investigator on a £1.26 million cross-national, six-year project on compromise amongst victims of conflict, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, focusing on Northern Ireland, South Africa and Sri Lanka. In 2013 he gave the Academy of Social Science Annual Lecture, in March 2014 the Annual Lord Dunleath Lecture, in April the Annual Lord Patten Lecture, in May 2014 he spoke at the Westminster Faith Debate on the motion that religion is a positive force in peace building, and in June 2014 he delivered the Annual David Stevens Memorial Lecture.

Dr Celia G Kenny

Dr Celia Kenny is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, University of Edinburgh and Cardiff University, in Theology, Biblical Studies, Peace Studies, Ethics and Comparative Canon Law. She is a free-lance researcher, writer and lecturer in the relatively new field of Law and Religion. She has been published by Bloomsbury, Ashgate, Cambridge University Press and in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal. She co-edited and contributed to an international collection of essays on Law and Religion published by CUP in May, 2016, and is currently contributing to a collection for Ashgate / Routledge due out in 2017. Celia’s particular interest is in the way that secularization affects religion. She is also working on her first novel, which has nothing to do with law or religion. Publications include : 'A Secular Age.’ In Russell Sandberg, ed. Law and Religion: Leading Works. Surrey: Ashgate /Routledge (forthcoming). ‘Law, Religion and the Curve of Reason.’ and ‘Future Directions for Law and Religion.’ In Frank Cranmer, Mark Hill, Celia Kenny and Russell Sandberg, eds. The Confluence of Law and Religion: Essays in Honour of Norman Doe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. ‘Public Place; Private Face: Veiling as a Challenge for Legal Reasoning.’ In Russell Sandberg, ed. Religion and Legal Pluralism. Surrey: Ashgate, 2015. ‘The Training of Ministers of Religion in Ireland.’ In Francis Messner, ed. Public Authorities and the Training of Religious Personnel in Europe: proceedings of the XXVth annual conference Strasbourg/Klingenthal, 21– 24 November 2013. Granada: Editorial Comares SL, 2015. ‘The Loss of Old Certainties as the Ground of our Hope.’ In Peter Admirand, ed. Loss and Hope: Global, Interreligious and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Law and the Art of Defining Religion.’ Ecclesiastical Law Journal January 2014: 18–31

Ryushin Paul Haller

Ryushin Paul Haller, a Soto Zen roshi, is a former Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center—a position he held from 2003 until February 2012.Leaving his homeland of Belfast in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, Haller spent time in Russia, Afghanistan and Japan. He then went to Thailand for two years where he was ordained as a Buddhist monk. Coming to California in 1974, he entered Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and was later ordained as a priest by Zentatsu Richard Baker in 1980. He received shiho from Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1993, giving him authority to teach. Since the year 2000 Paul has also been the Teacher of Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Paul is a dharma heir of Sojun Mel Weitsman and has been teaching for over 25 years. He served as abiding abbot at City Center from 2003 to 2012, and is currently the Urban Temple Dharma Teacher at City Center. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he teaches throughout the US and Europe and has led mindfulness programs to assist with depression and recovery. Paul has also taught in prisons and has a long involvement with the Zen Hospice Project. He has been practicing yoga for 25 years. Founder and former director of outreach at SFZC, Paul is interested in finding ways of expressing our practice in society, both as compassionate service and making it available to as many people as possible.

Frank Liddy

AWAREs’ Mindfulness Practitioner, Frank Liddy, has over 30 years’ experience in the delivery of Mindfulness in NI. Frank joined the AWARE Team in November 2014 to deliver their Mindfulness Programme across NI. Frank has spent many years developing his personal practice and skilfulness in Mindfulness and is regarded by global leaders as the leading Mindfulness Practitioner in NI. He studied Mindfulness at Bangor University Wales and is qualified to deliver Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention. Added to this Frank is also the co-founder of Belfast Mindfulness Centre, the first centre in NI and was established in 1998. Frank is also a co-founder of Compassionate City Belfast and sits on their UK Task Force. Over the years Frank has taught Mindfulness to a wide range of groups in NI and continues to create innovate approached to the delivery of high quality Mindfulness. Frank has been requested on countless occasions to deliver high profile Mindfulness Lectures to senior management teams in the Health and Social Care Board, Health Care Trusts, Institute of Banking and Institute of Directors. Frank has successfully contributed to the Global Summit on Mindfulness and Compassion, developed and delivered experiential and practice-based Mindfulness programmes and workshops. Through his work as a Mindfulness Practitioner, and most recently working with AWARE, Frank has delivered to an extensive range of high profile organisations in Health Care, Education (including QUB and UU), Private, Public and Community and Voluntary Sector. Over the past thirty years Frank Liddy has been instrumental in promoting and developing awareness of Mindfulness through an extensive network across the Province and beyond including Europe and America. Frank has also had the good fortune of being able to promote Mindfulness through the faculty of the American Group Psychotherapy Association and has been a member of Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISSC) since its inception.

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Upper Newtownards Road



United Kingdom

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