The Boston University Center for the Humanities supports and works with a number of other BU organizations. These include:
The Arctic Environmental Humanities Workshop Series
The The Arctic Environmental Humanities Workshop Series at BU is a new initiative hosted by The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies and the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.
This workshop series is a collaborative enterprise that is robustly interdisciplinary and brings together diverse expertise of humanistic scholars, artists, and researchers drawn from international circles. Presentations and conversations will take place in varied formats, all online and freely accessible to all those interested. The perspectives and participation of northern communities and people will be particularly valuable and encouraged.
BU Health Humanities Project
The Health Humanities Project at BU is a new initiative housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 2020 by NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor Anthony Petro (RN), the Project aims to foster academic engagement among faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in the medical and health humanities through event programming, curriculum building, and other opportunities.
The Cultures of Science Seminar
The Cultures of Science Seminar welcomes faculty, graduate students, and researchers working in history and geography of science; science and technology studies (STS); philosophy of science; Indigenous Traditional Knowledge; medical humanities; literature, sciences and the arts; environmental humanities; bioethics. The goal is to generate collaboration and conversation about pressing issues at the science/culture interchange, starting with a series of workshops on recent compelling research that colleagues are engaging with and would like to open up to wider, crossdisciplinary discussion and critique. Rather than presenting formal talks or works in progress, the aim is to generate discussion on focused readings across and outside our comfort zones, methodologies, and usual spheres of circulation. The seminar is open to all academics regardless of institutional affiliation.
Center for Philosophy & History of Science
The Boston University Center for Philosophy & History of Science is one of seventeen independent academic units of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The Center was initiated by the series of colloquia established in 1960 by Professors Marx Wartofsky and Robert S. Cohen, with colleagues from other institutions of Greater Boston. They conceived a forum of scholarly exchange in the broadest framework of interdisciplinary and international concerns. In 2010, Professor Alisa Bokulich was appointed Director, succeeding Professor Alfred I. Tauber, who had been Director since 1993, who assumed the role of Director Emeritus, along with Professor Cohen.
The Center’s mission is to examine the historical, philosophical, and social factors that govern the theory and practice of science. By regarding all sciences, from astronomy to zoology, as influenced by their cultural environment, historical development, linguistic convention, psychodynamic interrelations, logical systems, and epistemological and metaphysical foundations (to name only the most obvious), our scholarship is dedicated to demonstrating the complex intellectual and social infrastructure of science. In so doing, the Center encourages the pursuit of both traditional and novel approaches to science as a form of general knowledge. Subject to investigation of how science progresses, what are its criteria of truth, and what we learn in the broadest sense from the scientific enterprise, modern science becomes the subject of critical examination. Such study secures our understanding of what increasingly has come to define our knowledge of the world.
The Center is best known for its sponsorship of the Boston Colloquium for Philosophy of Science, which began as an informal interuniversity collaboration of scholars in philosophy, the natural and social sciences, psychology, religious studies, and the arts. This lecture series has become a premier forum for national and international dialogue concerning all aspects of the philosophy and history of the sciences, mathematics, and logic. Each year, the Center hosts an eclectic program of symposia and lectures that is world-renowned for its diversity and originality.
The Center also sponsors visiting professors, scholars, and research fellows who conduct investigations in the rich intellectual milieu of Boston’s notable universities. These scholars have come from some thirty-five countries, spending up to two years at Boston University.
The Center promotes an active publication program. The annual colloquia offer a forum for discussion of work in progress and of research ready to be published, either as portions of longer books or individual articles in scholarly journals. Under the editorship of Robert Cohen, the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (published by Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht) produced more than 200 volumes in the areas of philosophy of the natural and social sciences, logic, mathematics, and the history and social relations of science. These studies include critical examination of current scientific theory and practice, and a wide range of scholarship focused on particular national traditions (e.g., of China, Poland, Greece), historical periods and persons (e.g., Goethe, Spinoza, Hegel, Bohr, Mach), and critical Festschriften for notable scholars or scientists. (The series is now edited by Jürgen Renn, Berlin, and Kostas Gavroglu, Athens.)
The Center for Philosophy and History of Science is closely linked to the Center for Einstein Studies, also based at Boston University and directed by John Stachel. Boston University’s Mugar Library holds a complete copy of physicist Albert Einstein’s papers.
Institute for Philosophy & Religion
For more than 40 years, the Institute for Philosophy & Religion (IPR) has been a unique interdisciplinary forum for the exploration of issues at the intersection of philosophy, religion, and public life. Its origins lie in a group of Boston University philosophers (the Personalists) who were among the teachers of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was a PhD candidate at Boston University, and over the years the institute’s programs have reflected broad concerns such as the promotion of social justice, the foundation of pluralistic societies, and the deepest questions about life as reflected in theological and philosophical discourse.
Founded in 1970 with the cooperation of three academic units of Boston University—the Department of Philosophy, Department of Religion, and School of Theology—the institute was envisioned as a home for serious philosophical and religious reflection. Under the successive directorships of Professor Lee Rouner and Professor M. David Eckel, the institute has become one of the premier locations on the American academic landscape for interdisciplinary conversation about perennial and pressing intellectual concerns. Past lecturers and participants have included Karen Armstrong, Robert Bellah, Wendy Doniger, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Charles Hartshorne, Bernard Lonergan, Jürgen Moltmann, W.V. Quine, Christopher Ricks, Paul Ricoeur, Ninian Smart, Huston Smith, Robert Thurman, and Elie Wiesel.
Each year, the institute sponsors a lecture series on issues that cross the boundaries between different academic disciplines and between scholars and the educated public. Past topics have included “Courage,” “Loneliness,” “Civility,” “Life, Death, and Immortality,” “Responsibility,” “Evil,” and “Toleration and Freedom.” In 2019–20, the series is titled “Wisdom and Transformation.”
In addition, the institute is the curricular home in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences for courses that offer BU undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to explore issues in tandem with each year’s lecture series and conferences. The institute’s course, PH 456/656 (also RN 397/607 and STH TT 819), involves an in-depth exploration of issues and texts related to each year’s series.
Although the institute—as its name suggests—has always hosted a range of programming that reflects the rather wide intersection of concerns implied in the conjunction in its title (philosophy and religion), it has also been, since its founding, a prominent national forum for important academic work in the specific sub-discipline of the philosophy of religion. In taking seriously the concerns of this academic field, the institute offers leading scholars the regular opportunity of presenting cutting-edge work in the philosophy of religion in the context of an annual symposium each spring.
In addition to the annual lecture series, conferences, and symposia, the institute publishes a series of volumes reflecting its research. In 2011, our newly rechristened series, Boston Studies in Philosophy, Religion and Public Life, began its publication with Springer. For information on ordering past volumes in our series, see our publications page.
Colloquium on Literature, Philosophy, & Aesthetics
The BU Colloquium on Literature, Philosophy, and Aesthetics is an annual meeting of literary scholars and philosophers whose work reflects upon the problems and themes shared across their different disciplines. That there are common problems and themes hasn’t always been appreciated. At least since Plato, philosophy has been associated with abstract general claims and a detached attitude toward the world. Literary critics, by contrast, value playful language, depictions of dramatic action, inventive expressions of moods rather than neutral, impartial stances. Philosophers make assertions and prize truth; critics are attuned to fictions and masks, attending (to adapt Keats) to an Iago as readily as an Imogen, relishing the “dark side of things” as much as “the bright one.” These venerable divisions have been challenged in various ways for over a century, but “Phil.” and “Lit.” are still often at odds—or mutually indifferent—in the American academy. The “ancient quarrel” persists.
The colloquia are designed not to end the quarrel but to better understand it, highlighting some of the most innovative new work exploring the lines between literary studies and philosophy.