Melissa Williams reflected on the fact that many of the conference sessions had highlighted the importance of language in grappling with human rights and social justice. She emphasized the need for attentiveness to languages that we use around the issues that we consider to be morally urgent, while paying particular attention to their diversity and their limitations. Recalling Wittgenstein’s insight on success in language games as the ability to “know how to go on,” she registered the difficulties of being able to go on in the current scenario because so many core elements of the historically important vocabularies in addressing rights and justice have been co-opted and distorted by those whose projects are inimical to justice.
She specifically referenced the languages of freedom, responsibility, worth, and value that have now become deeply intertwined in economic considerations, and have encouraged highly individualistic conceptions of autonomy that in turn serve to justify exploitative policies. Williams acknowledged that the language of creation, care, and stewardship remains a powerful resource within the Christian community to counter some of the most virulent tendencies of global capitalism and the wholesale capture of democratic language by it growth imperatives. She also mentioned some roadblocks on the road ahead, expressly signaling the politics and power equations that accompany all attempts at framing a discourse and any potential alternatives.
Lois Wilson reiterated her concern for environmental justice and care as a defining struggle of our times, and she affirmed in her own way Williams’ point on the need for fresh communicative possibilities. Wilson stressed the need for religious traditions to lead in the creation of open, deliberative, and conversational spaces, and she called on practitioners to continue to seek and nurture authentic models for transformation and change. Nicholas Wolterstorff said that the conference’s blend of theoreticians and activists had allowed for an important and profitable exchange on how ideas move to and from the real and complicated world of justice and rights work. He also shared Williams’ concern over the state of our moral language as it faces the enormous tasks at hand, and said we urgently need to heal the language, not because the language itself is important but because what it points towards – namely, human dignity – remains irreplaceably so.