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New Humanities Initiative integrates the humanities and sciences from an evolutionary perspective

C.P. Snow famously described the sciences and humanities as two mutually incomprehensible cultures in 1959, a division that has been lamented ever since. EvoS provides a solution to this problem by expanding evolutionary theory beyond the biological sciences to include all human-related subjects, including the humanities in addition to the human-related sciences. Leslie Heywood (English Department) and David Sloan Wilson (Director of EvoS) have expanded upon this theme in a challenge grant proposal submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) titled “Integrating the Humanities and Sciences: A campus-wide program at Binghamton University that addresses a general problem in higher education” (PDF). The proposal also serves as a position statement for a “New Humanities” initiative that has attracted widespread attention, even before it is considered by the NEH.

One hallmark of the proposal is that it describes the integration as a genuine two-way street, “in which intellectual perspectives and subject areas currently associated with the humanities occupy center stage as part of the study of what it means to be human from a scientific perspective, and where the humanities are instrumental in articulating the transformative power of the imagination, a perspective that, for the first time in a very long time, is again taken seriously by science.” This is in contrast to some recent efforts to Darwinize the humanities, which represents a one-way street approach that needlessly alienates many people from the humanities.

In the process of writing the proposal, endorsements (PDF) were solicited from major figures in both the humanities and the sciences. Natalie Angier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times, featured the initiative in a May 27 2008 article titled “Curriculum Designed to Unite Art and Science.” The letters of endorsement and response to the New York Times article reveal tremendous worldwide interest in the New Humanities initiative.

If the NEH challenge grant is awarded, it will result in a New Humanities program at BU that is integrated with EvoS and rivals it in size. Even now, however, the EvoS seminar series is featuring scientists and scholars who represent the New Humanities, such as Stephen Brown (music from an evolutionary, neurobiological, and cultural perspective) and Brian Boyd (narrative from an evolutionary perspective). See the EvoS Seminar Series webpage for details.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2008 in News by EvoS.


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