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Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2005

America: More than just 'freedom fries'?

Conference to explore how United States is viewed by Europeans

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- How do Europeans view America? Is it life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Or is it blue jeans, MTV and hamburgers with a side of "freedom fries"?

"To many Europeans, America is still an unknown territory. They rely on myths and preconceptions of American society and politics," said Aurelian Craiutu, assistant professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington and author of Liberalism Under Siege: The Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires (2003).

Craiutu is one of 10 scholars in the fields of political science, history, philosophy, comparative literature and religion who will gather in Bloomington later this week to discuss the images of American democracy in Europe. They also will critically assess the validity of narrative constructions of American life, society and culture that have circulated in Europe in the past few years, with a special emphasis on France.

What does "America" mean to people of different cultures? How can we explain both the fascination with and the contestation of the "American myth" throughout Europe? These questions and others will be addressed at an international conference, "America Seen Through Foreign Eyes," which will be held Friday through Sunday (March 25-27) at IUB.

"The world continues to be fascinated with America, one way or another. Love and hatred of America divide the world," said Craiutu, who is co-organizing the conference with Jeffrey Isaac, Rudy Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at IUB.

America has gone from being regarded as a boundless and bountiful continent and a possible model for European democracy to being viewed as a country of materialism and a major source of spiritual decadence, Craiutu said. The allegedly uncivilized, mercantile and materialistic character of American society has become a major target for critics, and many Europeans have rarely seen America except in caricature. This tendency has triggered a "disquieting confusion of facts, images and representations," he said.

Additionally, in the past few years, relations between the United States and Europe, particularly between the United States and France, have been strained over the war in Iraq.

"It is, therefore, highly important to revisit how America has been seen by foreign visitors over the years in order to assess current criticism of American politics and society," Craiutu said.

The authors who will participate in the conference can offer both historical snapshots of America and insight into contemporary America, its mission and its uniqueness, Craiutu said. College of Arts and Sciences Dean Kumble R. Subbaswamy and Isaac will deliver the opening remarks at 9 a.m. on Friday. The conference, which will be held in the Stateroom East of the Indiana Memorial Union, is free and open to the public.

A schedule of events and listing of panelists is available at the Department of Political Science's Web site,

The conference is being sponsored by the College Arts and Humanities Institute, Bar-Koon Fund (Department of French and Italian), Department of Political Science, West European Studies and the Office of International Programs.