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The Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service

Civility Conference

A conference hosted by the Thomas S. Foley Institute at Washington State University, Humanities Washington, the Idaho Humanities Council, and funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Civility & Democracy in America

March 3–5, 2011 | Spokane, Washington


The tragic shootings in Tucson in January 2011 and the ensuing debate has refocused attention on the state of America’s civil discourse. From members of Congress hollering “You lie!” to the president of the United States, to angry outbursts at town-hall meetings, to the all too frequent allusion to guns and violence in partisan debate, many believe that our political dialogue is broken and incapable of allowing thoughtful discussion about the common good.

This is not the first time that political debate in the United States has been polarized or marred by unruly behavior. In previous eras political debate often consisted of mud-slinging in a partisan press and not infrequently led to acts of physical violence and even duels. Moreover, if civility simply means good manners, it is not clear that it is essential to, or even good for, our democracy. Democracy in a pluralist society requires the vigorous contestation of deeply held values and beliefs, and even challenging accepted norms of thought and behavior.

So how should we understand the current state of America’s civil discourse? Is it broken? Does it differ from previous periods of deep political division? Is it related to other developments in American culture, such as new forms of media or shifting notions of community? Most importantly, what is the possibility of holding a civic dialogue that respects America’s growing cultural and political diversity while permitting the respect and compromise necessary to pursue a common good?

Conference Format

The conference on “Civility and Democracy in America,” hosted by the Thomas S. Foley Institute, Humanities Washington, and the Idaho Humanities Council, will examine these and other questions. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we are bringing together leading scholars from across the country in a variety of disciplines for a high-profile program.

The conference consists of a reception and keynote address on the evening of Thursday, March 3, followed by an academic forum on Friday, March 4. The forum will feature panel discussions by leading scholars from five distinctive perspectives: history, religion, philosophy, art and architecture, and media.

The opening reception/keynote and the academic forum are free and open to the public.

On Saturday, March 5, a workshop for humanities practitioners and civic leaders will be held to discuss future programs and events.

Related Events Nationwide

The conference is one of four major conferences across the country in the month of March being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of a “National Dialogue on Civility and Democracy.”


National Endowment for the Humanities  humwa  Idaho humanities council

With support from The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and KWSU Public Television.