Spring semester 2012 saw the University of Notre Dame join a world-wide examination of the legacy of the Swiss philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 2012 marks the tricentennial of his birth; the international organization of events is being led by colleagues in Geneva. The Notre Dame events, titled “Rousseau 2012 / DIGNITY” explained why we should keep reading Rousseau today through the lens of key concepts on political justice, power relations, and religious liberty. To the question, why is Jean-Jacques Rousseau relevant today? We reply emphatically, JJR is a pioneer of humanitarian thought. Our efforts aim to provide teachers and students with key insights into Rousseau and stunning visual supports that are “good to think with” and engage us in the work of creating a more humane world.
The visual centerpiece of the project was the large and gripping photographic DIGNITY exhibit in the Snite Museum of Art. This exhibit was unveiled in Paris from May-July 2010. It made its American début at Notre Dame during an 8-week run that brought in more than 5,000 people. DIGNITY is now available for other sites in the USA as a travelling show. Guaranteed to deliver a jolt to audiences, this exhibit provides a heart-wrenching, honest portrayal of what poverty looks and feels like, as reported by people speaking their own stories from five countries: Egypt, India, Macedonia, Mexico, and Nigeria.