Psychology for the Other Conference

18th Psychology for the Other Conference

Seattle University

Program for Psychology for the Other (downloadable)

November 4-6, 2022

Register Here

Conference Schedule (all times are PDT)

Transcendence and La Petite Bonté: Miracles of Mercy in Therapy and Everyday Life

Woman headshot, dark sweater, tan background

Dr. Marie Baird


We are so thrilled to welcome Dr. Marie Baird, who will be giving our Keynote address:  Exploring the question of “who gets to have a face?” in contemporary American society and politics.

Given the rise of nationalist, xenophobic, populist, and antisemitic movements in the United States, particularly in recent years, and given such movements’ organizational and messaging efforts around what they consider to be the scourge of unwelcome immigration, one question arises most urgently: whose humanity is deserving of protection or, in Levinasian terms, who gets to have a face? What these movements all have in common is the refusal to recognize the face of the other precisely as a face because its unique irreplaceability—its very infinity—has been sacrificed on the altar of racist, populist, nationalist, or xenophobic objectification. This presentation will invoke Levinasian ethics to argue that the face leads “beyond” the objectifying impulse of perception because its most fundamental phenomenality is the plea not to be killed. The essay will argue further, invoking the social and political order, that the introduction of multiple faces, while necessitating the institutionalization of law and justice, remains predicated on the priority of the ethical obligation to encounter the face of the other without the objectifying impulse that denies the face its very humanity.


Dr. Baird is an Associate Professor and Director of the Jewish Studies Minor at Duquesne University. Her research interests include the theology of suffering, the philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Gianni Vattimo, and the role of ethics in theology and spirituality after the Holocaust. Her current research is focused on the phenomenology of the face/facelessness.


November 4-6, 2022

Register Here

Note: This is now a bi-annual conference. The next conference will take place in 2024.

Transcendence and La Petite Bonté:

Miracles of Mercy in Therapy and Everyday Life 

“The small Goodness is the most human thing there is in man. It defines man, despite its powerlessness. It is beautiful and powerless, like the dew.”

--Levinas (Alterity and Transcendence, p. 109)


“Yes, as well as this terrible Good with a capital “G,” there is every day human kindness. The kindness of an old woman carrying a piece of bread to a prisoner, the kindness of a soldier allowing a wounded enemy to drink from his water-flask, the kindness of youth towards age, the kindness of a peasant hiding an old Jew in his loft. The kindness of a prison guard who risks his own liberty to pass on letters written by a prisoner not to his ideological comrades, but to his wife and mother… Even at the most terrible times, through all the mad acts carried out in the name of Universal Good and the glory of States, times when people were tossed about like branches in the wind, filling ditches and gullies like stones in an avalanche – even then this senseless, pathetic kindness remained scattered throughout life like atoms of radium.”

---Viscilly Grossman, Life and Fate (pp. 391-392)


Levinas was fascinated by the “close to life” uniquely human experiences and phenomena of the ineffable, the hyperbolic, and the paradoxical tensions between the extremes of good and evil, mercy and violence, and of course, totality and infinity.  Late in Levinas’ life, nowhere are these contrasts more evident than in his attachment to and focus on the writings of the Jewish-Russian author Vascilly Grossman, particuarly his novel Life and Fate, which was banned and confiscated during the Khrushchev regime because of its comparisons of Stalinism to Naziism.   Levinas was captivated by the radically local and intimate acts of “goodness without witnesses” (Grossman, 2006, p. 391) because they resist language and reason and therefore transcend ideology, dogma, and strucural formulation of any kind.  The transcendence or priority of Ethics manifests through the senseless self-sacrifice in acts of mercy where the human innocent appeal is made and lives as a redemptive possibility that overwhelms ontology and interrupts systems of violence and rhetoric.  The paradox of this “small goodness” or “la petite bonté”, is that it is gratuitous and “senseless, pathetic” in its concreteness, without hope or promise of consolation or redemption and therefore, beyond the reach of meaning and being.


In this world, we are often overwhelmed by totalizing and objectifying systems inherent in the realms of politics and institutional bureaucracy, where each person becomes reduced to a composite of a statistic or demographic, a number or a diagnostic classification, an object of scrutiny and dissection, and a cog in various economic machines.  We are living the truth of van den Berg’s (1972) “dis-ease” of loneliness, socially distanced, and perpetually living our loss of human connection and dignity.  In this context, the contrast of even the smallest of mercies stands out starkly as ethical awakening in the excessive presence of the face of the Other.  The humanity of the human reveals itself in the little goodnesses that emerge unlooked for and unrecorded.  In this conference, we invite you to consider how these actions of mercy and their movements of transcendence have been at play in your work and in your everyday life. 


In 2003, the first Psychology for the Other conference began as a small seminar gathering of scholars, therapists, students and researchers to explore topics raised by Levinas in the application of a Psychology For the Other.  The emphasis on this word For has been essential to the training of Masters level clinicians in the Seattle University Masters of Arts in Psychology (MAP) program for close to 40 years.  Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. George Kunz, helped us to deepen into a conversation that helped us to look for each other beyond the totalizing roots of our rhetoric, language, or even thought itself. This question of “Who is this For?” has become central to the training of therapists and our ongoing work as human beings to become radically and endelessly decentered by the unforeseen and unfathomable mystery of the Other. 


In 2016, this conversation centered on the exploration of how love makes us vulnerable.  In 2017, we continued to apply this theme to how this vulnerability inspires the interruptive movement of apology, the movement away from self.  And in 2018, we gathered into all of these conversations around how justice moves through us from the Other.  The movements and meanings of all three of these themes are saturated in our modern dilemmas in our world today. Last year in 2021, our virtual conference explored how vulnerability and humility allows for the paradox of power and weakness to inspire us to social action.  The idea of humility and vulnerability is foundationally salient for this year’s conversation around mercy and the gratuitous and paradoxically powerful roots of goodness in small acts of unconscious and mostly unwitnessed kindness.  These are the seeds which scaffold Levinas’ claim that “only the excess of beatitude will respond to the excess of evil” (Levinas, 1998, p. 132.)  This year, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and come to gather again in person, we ask how can our witness of these small mercies inspire us to acts of transcendence in therapeutic work and everyday life?

Notification of approved papers was sent September 1, 2022  Please direct questions to Dr. Claire LeBeau:  

We're looking forward to seeing you this year!