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Institute for Advanced Study awarded grant

Meghan Thomassen | Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study has won $1.58 million from the John Templeton Foundation to host scholars interested in the “big questions” of philosophy, theology and science.

Vittorio Hosle, professor and the Paul Kimball Chair of Arts and Letters, said the Templeton grant aligns with the institute’s methodology of research.

“The Templeton Foundation is one of the most impressive foundations in this country,” Hosle said. “Their parameters for the type of research we want to foster is very similar to the Institute for Advanced Study, so it was a natural cooperation between what we want to do and what they want to do.”

The foundation chose Notre Dame’s institute for its history of interdisciplinary research, Hosle said.

“[The institute] is the right avenue to foster a type of research that is both more interdisciplinary and acts against the tendency of more and more limited specialization we’re seeing so much academia,” he said. “At the same time [the institute] tries to address big questions, the answers to which Sir John Templeton dedicated his life.”

Hosle said the fellows at the institute are pleased with the grant because it will allow them to increase the caliber of scholars brought to research on campus.

“All the questions have a big-question normative dimension, which would belong to philosophy or theology,” he said. “[The foundation] wants these questions to be addressed by those who have ‘know-how’ in the sciences.

Selected scholars will live at Notre Dame and work with the institute for a year.

“We have twice a week lunches where all of the fellows meet and present their proposals, which are selected according to their interdisciplinary qualities and their normative dimension,” Hosle said. “It is a way of living a life in which you do not only meet with the colleagues in your own department. The scholars will benefit from the chance to interact with scholars outside of their normal setting with persons from very different disciplines.”

Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to work with the scholars as research assistants.

“[Undergraduates] will learn how great scholars work,” he said. “People brought into the life of the mind will see how interesting and ambitious it is, and it may increase intellectual curiosity.”

Hosle said scholars should produce a book while researching with the institute.

“We hope these books will have an impact in various disciplines, possibly outside of academia,” he said. “Many people have to deal with the problem of creativity, persons in businesses.”

There should be an incentive to study these types of big questions, Hosle said.

“Realistically, since people want to make a career and feed a family, it is important that there are institutional structures that recognize work that is interdisciplinary,” he said. “There are not enough of them. The narrow approach is not the research of the future.”

Donald Stelluto, the associate director of the Institute for Advanced Study, said applicants for the scholarship will focus on questions such as “What is human creativity and how does it manifest itself?” and “What is the place of the human mind in nature?”

“Who will apply is also partly driven by scholars who work those areas in line with those big questions,” Stelluto said. “Not every scholar may yet be at a point in their career where they can address those types of questions.”

The questions will connect the sciences with other disciples, especially theology and philosophy, he said.

“This approach is a departure from a more myopic approach to research and returns back to big questions that link together the sciences with the other disciplines,” Stelluto said. “The formation of the universities during the Middle Ages and the Catholic intellectual tradition, integrated disciplines, and that’s one of the thrusts of this fellowship program, it’s to reintegrate the disciplines on major questions.”

Working with the scholars will allow undergraduates to develop creative approaches to research.

“We have the potential to impact a whole generation of scholars as the program grows,” he said. “As problems and issues become more global in scope, they require more than one discipline to solve them. … We offer a new model, based on a return to an older tradition, for scholars to collaborate at a meaningful level.”