The Philosophy of “Personalism” & its Most Relevant Implications to Contemporary Life & Human Services

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Date(s) - September 22, 2020 - September 24, 2020
All Day

Manresa Retreat Centre

This workshop is dependent on adequate registration. Kindly register by July 15, 2020 to ensure this event will take place.

Each day begins at 8:30 am and goes until approximately 5:30 pm the first two days, and will conclude at approximately 4:30 p.m. on the last day. All participants are invited to attend optional reflection groups, approximately 1 hour in length, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Participants are encouraged to stay at the retreat centre.

Content: This workshop presents Dr. Wolfensberger’s interpretation and synthesis of philosophical and value traditions that have been called “personalism,” focusing especially on those from France in the late 19th – early 20th centuries and personalist thinking since then. Personalism, like other philosophies, has implications to a wide range of issues in life, and this workshop interprets the relevance of personalist ideas to a number of concerns of contemporary life, society, and human services.
There is a long history of personalist thinking, and there are many schools and formulations of personalism. They all tend to emphasize the importance of the human person, especially vis-à-vis structures and absolutisms. The personalism movement that started in the late 19th – early 20th centuries and that is the particular focus of this event, responded to totalitarian ideologies such as communism and fascism, and to the depersonalizing oppression of industrialized economies. The insights and recommendations of personalists to those concerns of one hundred years ago are still very timely. More recently, developments such as media control of society; computer driven objectification, depersonalization, and centralization; the invasion of people’s minds and their privacy, as via surveillance; and the tyranny of political correctness, as in academia – all these are making personalist analysis and ideals very relevant once again.
Some versions of personalism are more religious than others; some step into the domain of psychology and personality theory. This workshop will mention both religious and psychological ideas, meanings, and implications of personalism, but even people who do not share the religion of some personalist philosophers — even people who do not consider themselves at all religious — can find much food for thought in personalism ideas.
However, the workshop does not get into heavy-duty or specialized philosophical territory, but stays on the level of ‘the intelligent layperson or non-specialist’.  No previous versions of this workshop have been criticized as being beyond the grasp of the ordinary intelligent person.
The workshop will cover the history and nature of personalism,  some of its more prominent thinkers and writers and what they had to say, and many of the teachings of personalism. The bulk of the workshop is devoted to the following common ‘themes’ that Dr. Wolfensberger identified in personalistic thinking:

  1. Seeking to grasp the nature of entities (especially human nature), taking this nature into account, and working with it in any enterprise, rather than ignoring the nature of an entity, or trying to defeat it.
  2. The primacy of the spiritual over the material.
  3. The intrinsic value and dignity of humans collectively, and of each and every human being, including those who are very reduced or impaired.
  4. The uniqueness of each individual human.
  5. Human freedom.
  6. The “relational” nature of human beings, and implications to sex, family, community and state.
  7. The imperative for each person to assume personal moral responsibility in life, and to act morally within any structures to which one belongs, regardless of the sanctions this may draw — if need be, acting in contradiction or disobedience to authorities that de-dignify the human or to try to destroy personal conscience. This assumption of personal responsibility also includes taking direct action to respond to the needs of others without waiting for action by organizations or government, or putting hopes in those, as well as recruiting others to embrace the same kinds of actions and stances. All this also implies helping needy, rejected, or devalued people directly, with one’s own bodily and mental resources and engagements.
  8. What personalism calls ‘subsidiarity’, which means trying to address problems at the lowest feasible level of complexity, technology, organization, and hierarchy.

For each theme, there will be some elaboration of action implications, and some interpretation of what personalist thinking and analysis would imply, including to developments that the earlier personalists did not confront or anticipate — for instance, modernistic attacks on the value of the person, and contesting the very humanness of some people.
As time permits, a few other personalism ideas/ideals will also be sketched, such as the implications of personalism to economics, and to the human relationship to the environment.

Format: The workshop is conducted in lecture style, with a sequential series of presentations that use overheads and slide illustrations as teaching aids.  At the conclusion of each presentation, there will be ample time for comments, questions, and discussion on what has been covered.  Also, participants will be offered a number of reflection questions for their own private meditation on the material that has been presented, and its implications for themselves. Optional reflection sessions will offered Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

Note: This workshop goes into depth on some topics that are briefly mentioned in two other Training Institute workshops: the 5-day workshop on Threats to the Lives of Vulnerable People and Crafting a Coherent Defence in Response, and the 7-day workshop on How to Function with Personal Moral Coherency. People who have been to either or both of those workshops will find this workshop a good follow-up, but people who have not been to either workshop can still attend this one and get a lot out of it.

Resident fees: Tuition and Accommodations (a single bedroom, 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 dinners)

  • registration on or before July 15, 2020 –  $640. CDN ($325. accommodations + $315. tuition)
  • registration after July 15, 2020 – $700. CDN ($325. accommodations + $375. tuition

Commuter fees: Tuition and some meals (3 lunches and 2 dinners)

  • registration on or before July 15, 2020 – $450. CDN ($135. accommodations + $315. tuition)
  • registration after July 15, 2020 or later – $490. CDN($135. accommodations + $375. tuition)

Payment:  Cheques should be made out to The Southern Ontario Training Group. Please contact Peg Jenner if you need to pay by credit card.

To Register:    Send completed registration form and cheque to:  Southern Ontario Training Group,

Attn: Peg Jenner 40 Cairnside Cres., North York, Ontario, Canada M2J 3M8

For Information: Contact Peg Jenner at

NOTE:  A limited amount of funding is available for subsidies.  Please inquire if this might be helpful. We are thankful for a Strategic Program Investment Grant which helps to provide some workshop subsidies to residents of Ontario.