What is “conscience”? The word “conscience” has a long history dating back to classical Greek thought, meaning literally “to know together.” In Japan, toward the end of the 19th c., the term “ryoshin” was chosen to represent the idea of conscience. It goes without saying that conscience is understood differently over time and geography, yet it has come to commonly refer to the state of the human heart-mind complex—consciousness—within the contexts of human-to-human relations and human-to-divine relations. In that regard, conscience carries with it connotations of morality, ethics, altruism, religion, global ethics and interreligious dialogue. At the Center for the Study of Conscience, these key words help define its mission in mapping out a correlation between human consciousness and behavior.
It is clear that people in today’s world by and large are ill prepared to deal with the accompanying friction and stress which arise from the transnational push for globalization. Mass migration and international standardization put heavy strains on local cultures. Yet, in order to survive, populations around the globe are being compelled to adapt; and this process can have an enormous impact on the human conscience. One vivid expression of this is the rise in global terrorism. In such a context, research into the human conscience’s capacity to peaceably resolve conflicting values is extremely timely, and its significance cannot be overstated.
Given the significance of the human conscience, it is important to draw on as broad a base of knowledge as possible and its full range of potential applications in order to address the current crisis. This is why the Center for the Study of Conscience pursues interdisciplinary collaboration. Some might think that it is impossible to remedy an individual’s grieved conscience, but by linking people together in shared experience, their understanding of the world might well change for the better.
Joseph Hardy Neesima (1843-1890), the founder of Doshisha, first encountered the word “conscience” during his study in the United States and was greatly helped by those who practiced it; and this experience directed his future path. Some may question the usefulness or practicality of what appears like an abstract endeavor, but Neesima’s example reminds us how powerful cultivated human conscience is. His advice to refrain from slighting students who follow an unconventional style or trajectory is a great reminder of the sanctity of the human conscience and illustrates the goal of the Center.