The conference ‘Relation, Vulnerability, Love: Theological Anthropology‘ aims to be a platform for the exploration of the relevance of these three key words for thinking about what it is to be human as well as for how theological anthropology is to take shape. A conference is well suited for such an objective, if we take the etymology of the word seriously. It is a relational term, as well as a term indicating a vulnerable opening up.

confer (v.) 1530s, from Middle French conférer (14c.) “to give, converse, compare,” from Latin conferre “to bring together,” figuratively “to compare; consult, deliberate, talk over,” from com- “together” + ferre “to bear” …. (OED).

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it was the sense of “taking counsel” that led to the notion of ‘conference’.

The latin cōnferō has the following meanings:

  1. I bring or collect together, gather; unite, join.
  2. I bring together, set in opposition, oppose, match.
  3. I bring together in thought, compare, contrast.
  4. I consult, confer, consider, deliberate, talk over.
  5. I compress, abridge, condense, sum up.
  6. I bear, carry, convey, direct, take, bring.
  7. I devote, apply, employ, direct, bestow upon, confer, grant.
  8. I change, transform, turn, metamorphose.
  9. I refer, ascribe, attribute, impute, throw blame, lay to the charge of.
  10. I transfer, defer, put off, postpone, refer.

The latin ferō carries the meaning of ‘I bear, I support, I hold up’, but also ‘I suffer, I endure’ and ‘I report’.

In other words, a conference brings people together. But rather than assembling people  and their knowledge into an aggregation in which the participants remain essentially the same and minds meet only along their exterior surfaces, a conference involves more or less a weaving together in which participants suffer one another, share what they bring and receive what others bring, growing relations in joint activities, sharing consciousness for a few days, as Toulmin points out:

Etymologically, of course, the term ‘consciousness’ is a knowledge word. This is evidenced by the Latin form, -sci-, in the middle of the word. But what are we to make of the prefix con- that precedes it? Look at the usage in Roman Law, and the answer will be easy enough. Two or more agents who act jointly—having formed a common intention, framed a shared plan, and concerted their actions—are as a result conscientes. They act as they do knowing one another’s plans: they are jointly knowing.[1]


[1] Toulmin, S. (1982). The genealogy of ‘consciousness’. In P.F. Secord (Ed.),
Explaining human behavior: Consciousness, human action, and social structure
(pp. 53–70). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, p. 64.

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