College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


Details of Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in the 2021-2022 academic year.

Professor Susan Neiman
Professor Susan Neiman is Director of the Einstein Forum, Potsdam, Germany

Events Details

Dates: 2, 3, 5,  9, 10, 12 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm.

The lectures may be followed by questions. Latest finishing time is 7pm.

Venue: Lecture Theatre A, 40 George Square, University of Edinburgh, EH8 9JX

Series Summary

Professor Susan Neiman - Heroism for a Time of Victims

As yesterday’s heroes are toppled from pedestals, it is time to consider who tomorrow’s heroes should be.  One obstacle to that task is so deep and widespread that we have rarely perceived its importance: the object of history has undergone a radical shift in the past half-century.   Whether in history and literature, whether examining the works of peasants or princes, earlier writers sought heroes.  Today, heroes make us nervous. 

The desire to shift our focus to victims of history began in demands for justice.   Earlier accounts let victims die a double death:  once in the flesh, once again in memory.  To insist that victims' stories be part of historical record was just a matter of righting old wrongs.  If victims' stories have claims on our attention, they have claims on our sympathy, our systems of justice, our bank accounts.  As an alternative to older world-views in which victims are voiceless, it's a definite step towards progress. 

Yet something went wrong when we rewrote the place of the victim, and the impulse which began in generosity can turn downright perverse. Professor Neiman proposes we return to an older model, where your claims to legitimacy are focused on what you've done to the world, not what the world did to you.  This wouldn't return to the victims to the ash-heap of history, but it would bring the hero back to center stage.  One of the first heroic virtues is generosity, as well as a certain humility that recognizes the role contingency plays in our lives.  (There but for fortune could any of us go.)  These should allow us to honor caring for victims as a virtue - without suggesting that being a victim is one as well.

These lectures will expand on this theme both through argument and example, presenting case-studies of heroic models and arguments for each one.

We welcome contributions to discussion about the series at the Gifford Lectures Blog.


Lecture 1. Who needs Heroes?


Monday 2 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm         Tickets available here   




Lecture 2. Odysseus and his critics: The first modern Hero


Tuesday 3 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm        Tickets available here




Lecture 3. Freedom Fighter or Terrorist? John Brown and the American Civil War            


Thursday 5 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm      Tickets available here 




Lecture 4. George Eliot: Heroes Without Faith


Monday  9 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm        Tickets available here



Lecture 5. Albert Einstein: or How to Turn a Hero into a Celebrity


 Tuesday 10 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm     Tickets available here



Lecture 6. Paul Robeson: Art in the Service of Heroism


 Thursday 12 May 2022, 5.30-6.30pm   Tickets available here



Gifford Seminar

The Gifford Seminar will be held on Wednesday 11 May from 1pm to 2pm, in conjunction with the Royal Society Edinburgh, at Rainy Hall, New College to discuss the themes of the lecture series. The panel will consist off:

  • Professor Stephen Reicher, FRSE, Bishop Wardlaw Professor, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Chairperson
  • Professor Susan Neiman, Gifford Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, for 2021-22 and Director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany
  • Dr Hannah Holtschneider, Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Alvin Jackson, FRSE, Richard Lodge Professor of History, University of Edinburgh

The seminar will be held in-person and online. Tickets for either can be reserved via the following links:

In-person -

 Online -

Gifford Lecturer Biography

Susan Neiman is Director of the Einstein Forum. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman studied philosophy at Harvard and the Freie Universität Berlin, and was professor of philosophy at Yale and Tel Aviv University. Her books, translated into many languages, include Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin, The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant, Evil in Modern Thought, Fremde sehen anders, Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists, Why Grow Up?, Widerstand der Vernunft. Ein Manifest in postfaktischen Zeiten and Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil.   She has also published over one hundred essays.  She is the mother of three grown children and lives in Berlin, Germany. 

Series Videos

The lectures will be recorded and links will be posted in the respective pages of each lecture.

Related Links

Einstein Forum

Gifford Lectures Blog