2021 International Conference on Covid-19 and the Givens of Existence: A Transnational Dialogue About Global Response

August 28 - October 10, 2021

Welcome to the 2021 International Conference on Covid-19 and the Givens of Existence:  A Transnational Dialogue About Global Response.  This conference brings together existential thinkers and practitioners across the globe from a variety of existential orientations to present and dialogue about how various geographical regions have responded to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Of course being existentialists, we view our experience through the existential frame and this online conference is designed to create a platform where we can share our reflections with a global audience.  The conference will consists of both keynote speeches and roundtable discussions which will be live-streamed during the weekends.  In additions, taking our inspiration from TED Talks, in place of breakout presentations, conference participants will have the opportunity to watch pre-recorded video presentations from across the globe.  These pre-recorded videos can be thought of as time-capsules where contributors can record a video capturing their reflections during the pandemic to be shared with conference attendees and kept for posterity. Both the keynote speeches and pre-recorded videos will focus on each of the following four givens of existence which will comprise of the following four weekly themes:   Freedom, Finitude, Relatedness, and Meaning.

Conference Schedule

(Click on each photo for more information regarding each presenter)
Please note that a two-hour ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION comprising of each of the four keynote speakers will take place on each Sunday after the Saturday keynote speeches.  These Roundtable Discussions will be conducted entirely in English with no live translations.  These sessions will be recorded with the English, Spanish, and Chinese translated versions of these recordings being available one week later. 
The four Roundtable Discussions will take place during the following dates and times: 
(August 29, September 12 & 26, and October 10th)
08:00 – 10:00 (Colorado, UTC-07:00)
09:00  – 11:00 (Mexico, UTC-06:00)
15:00  – 17:00 (London, UTC+00:00)
22:00 –  00:00 (Beijing, UTC+08:00)
08:00 (Colorado, UTC-07:00)
09:00 (Mexico, UTC-06:00)
14:00 (London, UTC+00:00)
22:00 (Beijing, UTC+08:00)

Fear of Death and Responses to COVID-19: A Terror Management Theory Perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a major disruption in many areas of life for the vast majority of people. By May of 2021, it had infected over 150 million people worldwide and killed over 3 million. Terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) is a theory about the role that awareness of death plays in diverse aspects of life. It posits that people manage the potential for terror that results from awareness of the inevitability of death by maintaining faith in their cultural worldviews, striving for self-esteem, and clinging to close interpersonal relationships. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all three of these major sources of emotional security. It was, and still is, a dramatic and ubiquitous reminder of death. From the perspective of TMT, the possibility of dying from COVID-19 is a driving force behind most of the diverse forms of behavior people exhibited in response to the pandemic, even for those who denied or minimized the risk posed by the virus – perhaps especially for those individuals. TMT distinguishes different defences that are used to manage death concerns when they are in current conscious attention (proximal defences) and when they are on the fringes of consciousness (distal defences). This distinction helps explain the widely varying responses to the pandemic, ranging from following recommendations for avoiding infection and spreading the virus to denial of its severity and refusing to take precautions. It also sheds light on the increased political polarization and civil unrest that occurred in many countries during the pandemic.

Tom Pysczynski, Ph.D., USA
08:45 (Colorado, UTC-07:00)
09:45 (Mexico, UTC-06:00)
14:45 (London, UTC+00:00)
22:45 (Beijing, UTC+08:00)

Life and Death at the Heart of Europe during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Compared to other European countries, Belgium – with Brussels as its capital and as the European capital – suffered hard under the first months during the covid-19 epidemic. The lock-down measures were draconic and necessary, and different studies showed extremely high anxiety levels among the Belgian population. At the same time, there was an unseen creativity to enjoy life within the circumstances and possibilities. The constricting measures of the government were balanced by inventive expansive solutions in individuals. The number of guitars being sold during the lock-down was remarkably higher than usual; the number of telescopes sold was multiplied by ten.

Holding life and death together, or the integration of being and non-being is the answer to the ultimate concern according to Paul Tillich. Does this make sense during this pandemic? Holding life and death calls for an experiential openness to our existence. Indeed, in a series of experiments, Abeyta and colleagues (2015) show how emotional clarity, or the openness to both positive and negative emotions helps us to experience more resilience during death anxiety. In our own study during the first lockdown (Spring 2020) with 358 participants of Belgium and the Netherlands, we discovered that the focusing attitude, or the awareness of one’s bodily felt sense of the situation and acting upon this awareness, had a clear association with less existential anxiety and more life satisfaction. What would you need to cultivate more openness towards life and to death, and how would that be for you?

Siebrecht Vanhooren, Ph.D, Belgium
09:30 (Colorado, UTC-07:00)
10:30 (Mexico, UTC-06:00)
15:30 (London, UTC+00:00)
23:30 (Beijing, UTC+08:00)


09:40 (Colorado, UTC-07:00)
10:40 (Mexico, UTC-06:00)
15:40 (London, UTC+00:00)
23:40 (Beijing, UTC+08:00)

Freedom, Finitude and Decision Making

People around the globe have been dealing with the Covid-19 Pandemic for a year now.  Even though vaccines are now available, there is still much uncertainty regarding their efficacy.  The uncertainty extends to the nature of the virus and it’s physiological and psychological impact.  Part of the impact involves the existential givens of freedom and finitude.  Our heightened awareness of our finitude and the limitations upon our freedom have forced us to relate to ourselves and the world differently.  In Hong Kong, people’s awakening to finitude can be traced back to the handover to Mainland China in 1997, followed by the Chief Executive’s Electoral Reform Plan in 2014 and the Extradition Law Amendment Bill passed in 2019. Some Hong Kongers felt significantly threatened existentially, others not. Mass protest was a profound reaction in response to the anticipated limitations and existential anxiety. Covid-19 arrived amid such intense anxiety.  Both the pandemic and the Extradition Bill posed a double threat to Hong Konger’s ideal view of being in the world and required the making of drastic decisions.  Therefore, this talk will present how the various critical moments during these turbulent years have heightened Hong Konger’s awareness of finitude and its impact upon our relationship to freedom and responsibilities for the choices we make. 

Bruce Wing Hong Lee, Psy.D., Hong Kong
10:20 (Colorado, UTC-07:00)
11:20 (Mexico, UTC-06:00)
16:20 (London, UTC+00:00)
00:20 (Beijing, UTC+08:00)

Finitude in Therapy

Finitude is challenging every therapist since COVID has placed it at the center of our pandemic experience. It’s difficult to give support to our clients’ endings related to their previous lives, as well as it confronts us with death. Death appears even in the therapeutic relationship. But, at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to work in relationality and the other givens.

Josefina Flores, Mexico

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