Holism: possibilities and problems

This international, interdisciplinary conference will explore the possibilities and problems to which the concept of holism gives rise, both academically and in practice.

Across many areas of contemporary culture we hear the concept of holism being invoked, as in holistic science, holistic spirituality, holistic healthcare, and holistic education. While there are different varieties of holism, each case implies a perspective in which the whole of a system is considered to be more important than the sum of its parts. Advocates of holism associate it with desirable qualities such as inclusion, integration, balance, and wider vision and champion it as a remedy for the fragmentation that is considered to beset the modern world. Critics argue that holism is vague, erases differences, and, by subordinating individual elements to a superior whole, ultimately leads to totalitarianism.

Two major twentieth-century thinkers, each of whose work is a productive site for in-depth exploration of concepts of the whole, are the Swiss depth psychologist C. G. Jung (1875-1961) and the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), and important strands of the conference will engage with their work, individually and in comparison. Speakers will also reflect on holism from the perspectives of psychology, psychoanalysis, philosophy, politics, history, the arts, spirituality, healthcare and education.

On the first evening of the conference (Friday 8 September), internationally acclaimed poet Richard Berengarten will talk about and read from his latest volume of poems Changing, a monumental 450-poem homage to the Chinese divinatory and philosophical text, the I Ching. Changing was described by the Fortnightly Review as “a culmination of Berengarten’s career. His vision of the world is holistic, as is the vision of the world on which the I Ching is founded. Everything meshes seamlessly together – including thought and words – into an organic continuum”.