the months since becoming director of Emorys new Center for
Humanistic Inquiry (CHI), Ive been asked again and again:
Why a Humanities Center? And inevitably, the follow-up
question has been: Why now?
The answers to both involve the current situation of the humanities
at Emory, as well as concerns about the status of the humanities
in general. Our culture continues to be increasingly focused on
science, technology, and knowledge as a business. Questions of quality
too frequently are lost in the focus on quantity. We continually
read about the unfolding crisis in the humanities, usually
couched in terms of complaints about students seeking college educations
simply as a way to procure high-salaried future jobs, or humanists
talking only to each other in opaque language. Such commentary is
skewed in part because those of us in the humanities have failed
to make the powerful case for the continuing relevance and crucial
importance of humanistic study that its long heritage and enormous
The CHI is part of Emorys ongoing effort to redress the imbalance
in contemporary discourse about the humanities. Currently, we have
twenty-three departments and programs categorized as humanities
at Emory. These academic enterprises are varied and vibrant; theyre
making impressive advances in their intellectual areas, and some
notable and longstanding collaborations have evolved over the years.
Despite such collaborations, the humanities at Emory remain compartmentalized
in crucial ways. At a recent college chairs retreat, one humanities
chair somewhat ruefully referred to that forest of proliferating
programs called the humanities. Her apt remark reflects both
the powerful organic vitality and the sometimes unorchestrated growth
that characterize humanities endeavors at Emory.
The was envisioned as a focal point to enhance this vitality and
coordinate this growth. As a residential center for humanistic scholarship
and a nexus for programming, the center looks to foster and energize
connections across the university. Through its residential role,
each year the CHI will host four senior fellows and three junior
and postdoctoral fellows, all funded by Emory College, as well as
three dissertation fellows funded by the Graduate School of Arts
and Sciences. These fellows will have a year free from their regular
teaching and service obligations to concentrate on their research.
But the CHI was never envisioned simply as a retreat for academic
monads. All fellows will take an active role in CHI programming
to share their work with the rest of the university.
As a residential focal point for humanities research, the CHI will
be a literal center. In its other major role as a metaphorical center,
the CHI will encourage conversations not just among the humanities
disciplines, but also between the humanities and the professional
schools. The importance of that second conversation, conducted across
the university as a whole, explains the CHIs nomenclature.
The original planning committee called for a center for humanistic
inquiry rather than simply a humanities center
because they envisioned the CHI as serving not only the humanities
as traditionally defined, but also all faculty and students throughout
the university who are interested in humanistic issues.
At Emory the humanities already
abound with a variety of programmingspeakers, lecture series,
reading groups, workshops, colloquia, symposia, and conferences.
Singly and cooperatively, existing units currently put together
a plethora of academic events, some on specialized professional
topics and others for the university as a whole and the wider community.
Thus the pressing need now is
not for more programming, but for more accessibility to
programs already available at Emory. A prime example is four days
last October, when David Lodge was delivering the Richard Ellmann
Lectures in Modern Literature, while Jaroslav Pelikan was giving
the inaugural McDonald Chair Lectures. Shoshana Felman lectured
in comparative literature and Mariana Torgovnik in English, along
with a history department lecture about the Atlanta
the Civil War and presentations during assorted brown-bag lunches
and colloquia. Films were offered in the Female
Director Film Series,
the Hispanic Heritage Month Series, and the Cinema from
Series; the Emory Wind Ensemble performed; and several
opened across the campus. In addition, a number of other programs
took place that for one reason or another do not appear
in the Emory
Events listings for that period.
Riches, yes, but also excess: the humanities need better coordination
of the exciting programs that perpetually occur simultaneously,
and better communication so that everyone in the university community
can know what is happening. The CHI will be working with the Humanities
Council, which has agreed to serve as the CHIs Advi-sory Committee
and programming arm, to find ways to improve scheduling and offer
better access to all programs.
LISTENING TO OUR OWN
The CHI will also originate some
programming. Our inaugural event was a Response Forum, what we plan
as an annual event giving Emory faculty members a chance to discuss
humanistic perspectives on immediate contemporary concerns. For
this years Response Forum I, The Humanities and Terror,
sixty-one faculty met in small groups to explore topics ranging
from Divine Love and Holy Terror and The Paradox
of Aesthetic Terror to En-gendering Terror and
Existentialism and Violence, and then continued their
discussions over dinner.
The Humanities and Terror shows three primary characteristics
of most CHI programming currently planned. First, it was interdisciplinary.
The forum was co-sponsored by the Center for Language, Literature,
and Culture; Dean Gary Wihl and the Graduate School of Arts and
Sciences; the Violence Studies Programand every single department
and program in the porary discourse about the humanities. All these
departments and programs responded immediately and generously, and
we hope this reaction presages a great future of cooperation among
The second programmatic characteristic is closely related: the forum
included faculty from across the university, including the humanities,
the social sciences, the natural sciences, public health, theology,
and the medical school. Law and business were absent this round,
but we will target their future participation.
Third, and very importantly, the Response Forum focused on Emory
faculty, not outside speakers. Too often, time constraints limit
Emory faculty conversation to campus politics or committee work.
Moreover, the Emory faculty is invited all over the world to address
other audiences, but ironically, their fellow faculty members seldom
hear them. The CHI hopes to play a role in building the kind of
intellectual community in which we can all learn more about the
diversity of humanistic work going on in our midst.
Significantly, at a time when humanities budgets in universities
across the country were being slashed, deans Robert Paul, then of
the graduate school, and Steven Sanderson, then of the college,
established the CHI to affirm the crucial role of the humanities
at Emory and in the larger culture. Since that time, Emory College
under Dean Paul has generously supported the endeavor as a whole,
while Dean Gary Wihl of the graduate school has provided the dissertation
fellowships, along with programming funds for Response Forum I and
a commitment for future programming support.
The administration has done its part. Now it rests on the faculty
and students at Emory to help those of us working with the CHI know
what you want and need. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org; our
phone number is 404.727.6424; our web site is www.chi.emory.edu.
Please get in touch.