Conference: The Ends and Means of Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century


Call for papers and notice for Lib Ed conference

The Ends and Means of Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century

May 2nd to 4th 2024

Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada

The powerful, transformative forces reshaping contemporary societies both challenge liberal education and provide it with new opportunities. The Ends and Means of Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century conference will explore the relevance and possibilities of undergraduate liberal education given the advent of artificial intelligence, digital media, political polarisation, cultural fragmentation, and growing economic and social instability.

Liberal education was once characterised as the cultivation of the “free individual” possessing critical cognitive skills and key cultural capital acquired through the study of canonical humanities texts and natural science learning as an end in itself. Increasingly, liberal education has been seen as the empowerment of students with the versatile skills and the broad knowledge that they will need to foster rich, life-long personal growth, and to be active, contributing members of their local and global communities. Greater emphasis has recently been placed on the transferable, “soft skills” and personal capacities required for successful careers through a lifetime of accelerating social, technological, and economic change.

But do such conventional notions of liberal education depend on a vanishing, or perhaps only once imagined, societal consensus on the identification, meaning and relevance of the things constituting cultural capital, transferable skills, personal growth, or local and global citizenship? Have revolutions in technology and economic relations, together with fast-changing conceptions of the self and social identities, profoundly challenged both the aims and methods of liberal education?

These questions are the prompts for a conference to be hosted by Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in collaboration with its partners, Medicine Hat College, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and the University of Lethbridge. Proposals are invited for papers on any aspect of the nature and provision of liberal education. Broad theoretical reflections, particular case studies, and reasoned, evidenced polemical presentations are all welcomed. The conference will be a forum for voices from disciplines across the humanities, natural and social sciences, and professions. Proposals are particularly encouraged that engage or respond to one of the following thematic strands suggested by the conference’s wider theme of The Ends and Means of Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century.

Strand One: Truth, Identity, Meaning, and the Ends of Liberal Education

Is the conventional notion of liberal education still coherent in its modern context: do ideas of disciplinary breadth, academic studies as ends in themselves, the cultivation of self-knowledge, and the ideal of an autonomous, self-realising individual, all depend on a now lost societal consensus on the meaning and contents of these things?

How is a liberal education possible in a society in which the constituent elements of identity and the means of its expression are contentious?

What can be the aims of liberal education amidst the epistemological fragmentation wrought by the sectionalism and political and cultural siloing in the wake of digital media’s explosive growth?

How do the imperatives of Indigenisation and decolonisation bear on the aims of liberal education?

Strand Two: Truth, Identity, Meaning, and the Means of Liberal Education

How, and on what basis, might a liberal education curriculum be legitimised in the face of fierce skepticism and apparently irreconcilable assertions of truth and meaning within the academy and across society?

How is a liberal education possible in a society in which the constituent elements of identity and the means of its expression are contentious, and in which the range and scope of equity, diversity, and inclusion activities continue to increase in both institutional and corporate contexts?

How must liberal education curricula and pedagogies respond to the requirements of diversity, equity, inclusion, and decolonisation while resisting the instrumentalization of these requirements so as to truly work for equity-deserving groups?

How can the values of liberal education be realised in a context of antagonistic cultural and political contention?

Strand Three: Generative AI, Digital Platforms, and the Ends of Liberal Education

Are research and communications skills still deserving focal points of liberal education given the rise of generative AI?

How might research and communication skills be reconceptualised in a knowledge generation and dissemination milieu permeated by AI?

What is the meaning of literacy and the status of texts as objects of liberal education study given the rise of digital media and the capacities of AI?

What is the impact of the ubiquity and profusion of AI on the value of some objects of liberal studies (canonical texts, aesthetic objects, etc.)?

Strand Four:  Generative AI, Digital Platforms, and the Means of Liberal Education

How might generative AI be incorporated in student learning to attain the aims of liberal education?

How will AI change the practices of liberal studies pedagogy?

Is the undergraduate essay still viable, or even necessary, as an instrument for the development of critical thinking?

Strand Five: The Student Experience of Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century

Do students grasp and find meaning in the putative values of liberal education? What meanings do they find?

Which pedagogical practices have real impact in the attainment of liberal education aims?


Abstracts are sought for high quality papers on the conference’s theme, some of the topics suggested above, or any matters related to the ends and means of liberal education in the twenty-first century.

Registration, conference venue, and an announcement of keynotes are forthcoming. Our intention is to publish a selection of papers from this conference as we have in the past. Please see:  Liberal Education and the Idea of the University, Between Truth and Falsity: Liberal Education and the Arts of Discernment, and Liberal Education: Analog Dreams in a Digital Age.

Please prepare your abstract of no longer than 300 words by February 29, 2024 to Submitted abstracts should be suitable for blind-review.

Please include:

·        A separate cover page with the title of your paper or panel

·        Name of presenter(s) or panelists

·        Institutional Affiliation (if any)

·        Contact details

Please send documents in PDF or Word format.

Decisions will be announced by March 10, 2024.

Registration fees will be $325.00 for faculty members, and will include lunches, a dinner, and refreshments. Graduate and undergraduate students can attend the entire conference for $100.00. If you are a student, please contact us before registering, as a limited number of student bursaries may be available. All funds are in Canadian dollars.

Accommodation information will be available on the conference website.

This conference is sponsored by the generous support of Medicine Hat College, the University of Lethbridge and Mount Royal University.