Stevanovich Institute to unite scholars studying questions about knowledge formation

The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge is introducing itself to the University of Chicago this academic year through TED-style talks and a scholarly journal, a full roster of classes and an inaugural lecture by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

“Our main focus right now is building up momentum and creating a community of scholars who are interested in the value of dialogue outside disciplinary guidelines and constraints,” said the institute’s director, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, the Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics.

The Stevanovich Institute opened at the University in fall 2015 and became fully operational this October. It unites scholars from different fields to study the process of knowledge formation and transmittal from antiquity to the present day, including looking at how that process shapes modern thinking and scholarship.

“If we really want to explore the process of how bodies of knowledge become authoritative throughout time, we need to come at the question from many different angles—historical, sociological, scientific, economic, cultural and so forth,” Bartsch-Zimmer said. “We emphasize that our research goals have to do with knowledge in context—nothing floats around on its own like a Platonic Idea, not even a Platonic Idea.”

The institute supports the research of UChicago faculty and visiting scholars as well as affiliated doctoral and postdoctoral scholars. It draws faculty from across campus and has brought on board its first postdoctoral researcher.

Later this month, some institute faculty will take part in the University’s Discovery Series, which features faculty engaging in panel discussions or short talks geared to a general audience. Although the series typically explores major scientific advances and research, the institute will present a program that explores broader questions about knowledge, said Macol Stewart Cerda, the institute’s executive director.

The free public event, “Against the Norm: Body, Citizen, Constitution, State,” will be held from 6-8 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Logan Center Performance Hall. Moderator Robert J. Richards, the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, will engage speakers Bartsch-Zimmer (citizen); Judith Farquhar, the Max Palevsky Professor of Anthropology Emerita and of Social Sciences (body); Tom Ginsburg, the Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, and Professor of Political Science (constitution); and James A. Robinson, University Professor, Harris School of Public Policy (state).

This fall, the institute announced its flagship publication KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge, which the University of Chicago Press will publish with the first issue due out in April 2017.

Bartsch-Zimmer, who serves as lead editor, said the twice-yearly journal will examine research on the contextual, historical, political and social determination of knowledge and critique of paradigms, although the inaugural volume will be different. Instead of asking for traditional articles, she said, “We’ve invited some of the greatest names in a wide range of disciplines to talk in a personal voice about their relationship to knowledge formation in their field.”

The institute is offering a full roster of 15 graduate and undergraduate courses, including three team-taught core seminars. Two of them are offered in conjunction with the Franke Institute for the Humanities’ Center for Disciplinary Innovation.

On April 20, 2017 the institute will host its inaugural lecture featuring Jared Diamond, professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Guns, Germs and Steel. Next summer, the institute hopes to move into a newly renovated space, and it is making plans for its inaugural conference on Nov. 16-18, 2017.