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Towards a Dialogic Humanist Education: A Cross-Cultural Inquiry of I-Thou Relationships


The core of this study concerns a historical yet current question: what constitutes humanist education? From ancient times to the present, the essence of humanist education remains the same, to cultivate human nature. Gradually, it becomes commonly recognized that humanity can be fully developed only when it is in social encounters with other people, societies, and the world. This recognition indicates that humanist education has become a project encompassing I-Thou relationships that construct shared meanings and humanity. The assumption is that, the more I-and-Thou relationships share realities, the more complete is their reality. My intellectual interest is to unravel the "ever-expanded and complex reality" in which I-Thou relationships have struggled, survived, and thrived. From a comparative perspective, I conduct the following.

Crossing time and space, I explore the classical ideals of humanist education by tracing Western and Chinese origins. My study finds that both Platonic and Confucian ideals emphasize the cultural foundation of humanist education; both stress that its goal is to cultivate personal perfection and to extend individual morality to others, society, and to the cosmos.

Using these ideals as a prism to reflect current situations, I pursue two major constellations of inquiry. One constellation considers what cultures have been taken as the "common" foundation of a shared humanity. Another concerns the fact that in the age of globalization, humanist education has faced risks of losing its cultural ideals while being replaced with a `materialistic' foundation, in which education is conceived as reproducing current social relationships.

In correspondence to these problems, I propose that dialogic humanist education should be constituted with three dialectical and transformative I-Thou relationships, moving (1) from individual to social being, concerning tensions and integrations between personal good and public good; (2) from state citizenship to cosmopolitan citizenship, focusing on cultural conflicts; (3) from becoming to being, dealing with crises of humanity caused by the expansion of modern instrumental rationality. An ultimate attempt is to explore the possibilities of creating common cultural foundations based on inter-Civilizational dialogues to further cultivate humanity in the new Axial Age.

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