New project: How stories of liberation shape our selves and our society

As the Michel Serres book reaches its final stages, I am beginning an exciting new project provisionally entitled “The development and limits of the idea of liberation: a narrative approach”. Here is a brief summary:

The project will evaluate the ways in which the modern West has made sense of the ideas of emancipation and liberation, drawing on both religious and secular stories in its development of what has been called the modern ‘emancipation narrative’. The idea of a progressive liberation from the oppressions of previous ages is fundamental to modern Western identity, but unprecedented ecological and social challenges threaten this idea today. The project will produce a new account of the development and prospects of the modern Western concept of liberation, tracing how key cultural liberation stories, both religious and secular, shape collective experiences and hopes of freedom. It aims to develop a new theory of how ideals of liberation change over time, and to evaluate current challenges to the expectation that freedoms can, or should, progressively increase.

The project will take a cross-disciplinary approach to its theme, examining how ideas of liberation circulate in film and literature, in myth and philosophy. It will focus in particular on the fortunes of two prominent liberation myths: the Exodus from Egypt under Moses and the Third Servile War under the leadership of Spartacus. I want to show how these two narratives in particular have shaped our understanding of the possibilities of emancipation, how they have been re-worked across time and in different contexts, and how they can help us to face current and future challenges to freedom.